Celebrating the rest of the story
Last Sunday I spoke on Jesus choosing Levi to be one of his disciples.
Prior to his encounter with Jesus, Levi is identified as “Levi, the tax collector.” More than an occupation, the addendum defines Levi. It’s a moral statement.
Tax collectors in Jesus’ era are dishonest, cheats and traitors. Levi is a real low-down, dirty rotten scoundrel.
Levi goes to work in the morning with one name, Levi the Tax Collector. He leaves work with a brand new name, Levi the Chosen. Levi the Follower of Jesus. Levi the Forgiven.
However, as is often the case in the New Testament, we don’t know the rest of the story.
What was Levi like the next day? Or the day after that?
Did Levi ever struggle with lying or cheating after Jesus chose him? Did the self-serving nature that drove him to collect taxes for the Romans ever surface in his interactions with the other disciples? Did he ever come across as unlikable?
My hunch is that the answer to all of these questions is yes.
Changing Levi’s name was just the beginning of his transformation.
I’ve long observed that the church world focuses on event-centered ministry. We celebrate the dramatic conversion, perhaps starting way back with the Apostle Paul. We count the numbers and use them to validate ministries. The bigger the numbers, the more successful we are.
This puts much pressure on pastors. By and large, misplaced pressure.
Pastoral ministry isn’t nearly so much about an event as it is a process. The real work of pastoring is walking with the Levi’s as they unlearn their old-name patterns and learn to live with their new names.
It’s a long process.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to quantify.
It’s often messy.
It can be discouraging.
But each step of growth, each milestone of transformation, is a miracle to celebrate.