I wonder who was in these crowds that were following Jesus around by now? It had to be people who could spare the time, first off. So perhaps it was casual labourers, those who might otherwise work in the fields, whose work would be seasonal and subject to quiet periods when they were idle. Also, in all probability, it didn't include many high ranking individuals - they would have comfortable lives already, and wouldn't feel the need to follow a miracle worker in search of a better life. Nor many seriously religious folk - they would be sceptical of a new preacher, and prefer to stick with their own rabbi.
Well today Luke tells us about Jesus breaking into a pretty surprising new demographic - the collaborators with the Roman occupation. Surprising for several reasons - Levi and his friends were doing nicely thank you, so why chuck it all in to follow a penniless rabbi? They wouldn't get a good welcome from Jesus' existing followers either - when they were flush they'd be fleeced by Levi and his cronies.
Perhaps you've heard how the French treated collaborators after the war. Women who had enjoyed a high life as mistress of the Nazis were publicly humiliated - made to go outdoors in their petticoats and be shaved in public.
There was deep hatred going on here.
Apparently the tax collectors used to station themselves on roads, and charge a toll as people passed by. Some of the toll went to the Romans, the rest was creamed off as profit. So I imagine Jesus handing over a coin to pay for the right to travel, and taking the opportunity for a quick word with the tax collector as he does so. "Follow me and be my disciple."
What, and leave all this money?
So what did make Levi get up? We've seen the fishermen leave their nets behind, now we see Levi leave his money behind. There's something, something magnetic in Jesus' words, or in his actions or his demeanour that doesn't come across in Luke's plain telling of the story. Something caused them to reach a snap decision that their old life was worth nothing compared to this new life of uncertainty and adventure, stepping out into the unknown, with a homeless preacher as their guide. And for Levi, to have people who loathed him and spat at him as his new companions.
At least Levi gave them a good send off. He throws a party for Jesus and his disciples, at which they come in for heavy criticism from the religious thought police: "Why do you eat and drink with such scum?"
If there's one group of people that look like they're immune to Jesus' attraction, it's the scribes and pharisees. Jesus' reply to them illustrates the gulf: he sees himself as a doctor, associating with the sick They see themselves as righteous, keeping the distance from sinners. They don't want to catch anything off these people.
But Jesus wants the "scum" to catch something off him. Health, salvation, redemption. Words like that. Words which mean destroying the status quo.