Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What Matters

. . . Levi got up, left everything, and followed him (Luke 5:28)

A few days ago I was with my kids in Target, killing time while they looked around at stuff that I had no intention of buying them. Not a problem. Target has a decent book section, so I wandered over and ended up reading the opening pages of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. This is the true story of Christopher McCandless, who made his way into the Alaska wilderness in April 1992, scratching his existence from whatever he could hunt or find to eat. His body was found five months later, having apparently starved to death.

In preparation for his solitary foray into the Alaskan wild, McCandless jettisoned every earthly possession. The child of suburban affluence, he gave the $24,000 remainder of a college fund to charity. He even burned the cash he had in his pocket and gave away his watch. He walked into the Alaskan wilderness with little more than the clothes on his back, a ten pound bag of rice and a .22 rifle.

Over the years a cult-like interest has developed around McCandless’ story. Krakauer’s book is honest about the different ways people have assessed McCandless’ death. Some regard him as a spiritual visionary who had the courage to shed the trappings of modern life and the expectations laid upon promising college graduates. He dared to reach for something more and lost his life in the quest. Others regard McCandless as foolish and ill-prepared for what he was attempting, a young man who sacrificed his life on the altar of a poorly formed idealism.

With two simple words Jesus evoked a crisis moment in the life of Levi the tax-collector. “Follow me,” Jesus said. And the response was decisive, clean and unwavering. Levi got up and left everything and followed him. “Left everything.” It’s easy to let those words slip past the eyes when you read the story, but the phrase is significant. The same kind of action is seen in the call of Peter (Luke 5:11).

Levi’s response to Jesus had to have been the subject of much talk. What did people say? Was Levi a bold visionary man willing to risk everything in devotion to this Rabbi? Or was he a fool for stepping away from a comfortable career track? Whatever people thought or said this much is certain: Following Jesus will require something of us.

To say “yes” to Jesus always entails saying “no” to something else. Whether we’ll admit it or not, many of us have the idea that we can embrace the life Jesus offers us while remaining comfortably undisturbed in the life we’ve made for ourselves. Jesus was pretty clear that it doesn’t work that way (Luke 9:57-62).

To say “yes” to Jesus is to follow a person who re-defines what matters in your life. The story of Levi, and even the tragic story of Chris McCandless, raises a question for us all. What matters, and what difference does it make in my life?

Lord Jesus, we want to follow you. We want to respond to your invitation. And yet, we’re afraid of where you will take us and what your invitation will require of us. Come and re-define what matters most to us, so that our “yes” to you will be gladly given. Amen.

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