Jesus walked up to a tax collector named Levi and recruited him. “And leaving everything, he rose and followed him” (Luke 5:28).
I checked out the original Greek and it reads: “And having left all, having arisen, he followed him.” (Now you see why they smoothed out the language in translation.) My recollection of high school English is that the past perfect of “having left all” precedes and is the rational context of “having arisen.” That is to say, as a result of “having left all,” the tax collector got up and followed Jesus.
One does not want to base too much theology on the vagaries of ponderous verb tenses, of course. Even if there is a logical precedence of the phrase “having left all” to the phrase “having arisen,” there may not have been any temporal gap between the two acts at all: Mr. Levi may well have decided to leave everything behind and stood up to leave simultaneously.
And yet, and yet. It is undeniable that one decides to do something at least a split second before one does it. And more cogently than that, this verse in the Bible tells us what the man’s precise decision was: He decided to leave all. And more than that, the phrases “having left all” and “having arisen” are placed in a definite order, with the leaving of all coming before the rising to go.
All of these text indicators lead me to an edifying conclusion: Levi, before ever getting up off his seat and out of his little booth, made a decision to “leave everything.” The “having left all” in this verse gives a transcript of his mind, his internal reckoning. We are to understand that it was not the case that Levi first left his job, and only belatedly realized, over time, that he was probably not going to return to tax collecting, and that he had in effect burned his bridges behind him. No, we are to understand that at the moment of Jesus’ call, a life-and-death transaction took place in the heart and mind of a certain tax agent, who instantaneously weighed the costs and benefits of following the Rabbi, and firmly and knowingly decided to pay the costs.
Jesus told a group of disciples: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). You and I are those who have made that bargain. Like Levi, let us no longer dither but make up our minds that we have left everything, whatever it costs.