“’Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi [Matthew] got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27-28)
What contributed to the difference in the response of Matthew and the rich young man to Jesus’ invitations to follow him?
Like the rich young man, Matthew was also wealthy, for the gospels describe him as holding a huge banquet for Jesus at his house at which he invited a large crowd of tax collectors and other guests. Unlike the rich young man, however, Luke says Matthew “left everything and followed” Jesus.
In contrast to Matthew, when Jesus suggested to the rich young man that he sell his possessions, give to the poor, and then come and follow him, the Gospel reports that he “went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mt. 19:16-30)
The rich young man was apparently leading an exemplary life for he said he had kept all the commandments. Matthew, on the other hand, was a tax collector, one of the most despised classes among the Jewish people, and considered a sinner. Yet, Matthew was willing to “leave everything” and follow Jesus, but the rich young man was not.
When my wife and I were in our 30’s we were practicing Catholics, attempting to live out our faith as best we could. A friend from our parish started inviting me to events that would supposedly renew and deepen my faith, but I declined her several invitations over a period of about a year. So then she started inviting my wife who agreed to attend what was referred to as a Week of Renewal in the Holy Spirit. It was a program involving five evenings in a row of talks and prayer.
Although I also declined invitations from my wife to join her, I observed how each evening she came home from the program with great joy. I was so struck by her reaction to what she was experiencing night after night, that I decided to join her on the final evening. On that evening, in spite of all my previous reluctance, I met the Lord Jesus in a new and personal way that I had never previously experienced.
It became a watershed moment in my life which led to a renewal of my faith. I came to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in a fuller way, an increased desire to pray and read scripture, and to serve the Lord as best I could in all areas of my life. Like the rich young man, I previously was not ready to follow Jesus in a deeper way. I believe the Lord prepared my heart, through my wife and other circumstances, to follow him anew.
Scripture does not tell us what eventually happened to the rich young man. Some writers say there is circumstantial evidence to speculate that he was the Barnabas of Acts 4:36 who sold a field that he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Perhaps the lesson is that the Lord is always calling and he is always preparing our hearts to follow him. Some of us may take longer to answer the call, but the Lord never stops preparing our hearts and continuing the call.