By Julie M. Smith
There are many similarities between Levi’s call in Mark 2 and the two call stories (of Peter and Andrew and James and John) in Mark 1 (see full text below): the seaside setting, the description of the future disciple going about his daily tasks, Jesus’ abrupt command to follow, and the disciples’ instant obedience. There are no similar call stories after this one; we can either assume that all disciples received similar calls but Mark saw no need to record them after the pattern was established, or that they were not called as Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi were.
Levi has a very different occupation and social role than the four fishermen. While Jesus was able to make symbolic allusions to the Hebrew Bible by calling fishermen, calling a tax collector was a shocking thing to do: it made him look sympathetic to the Romans and would have offended Jewish sensibilities. In fact, this story isn’t so much about the call of Levi per se as it is about who Jesus thinks is fit to be a disciple—and his answer would likely have stunned just about everyone.
It is possible that Levi knew the four fishermen and had collected taxes on their catch (and kept some as his own payment). If so, one can only imagine the dynamics among the disciples as Levi is welcomed into the circle of brotherhood.
In a sense, the call of Levi represents a heightening of the previous call stories: while it would have been possible for the fishermen to return to their fishing, either occasionally or full time, it would not have been possible for Levi to resume his post after abandoning it.
See C. S. Mann, Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986), 129.
16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
19 And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
13 And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.
14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.
15 And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat withpublicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that arewhole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.