Monday, September 28, 2009

Called to Follow - Matthew

Have you ever known anyone who was thought of as a traitor? What about a person who goes against what most believe? You know the person. They are considered an outcast. They do things there own way. They push against the norm of what is expected.

That was the man Jesus met as He passed on from Capernaum. Levi the son of Alphaeus was considered a traitor by the Jewish community, he was a tax collector. This is the man we know more accurately by his name given to him after following Jesus. We know him as Matthew, meaning "gift of God."

During the time Jesus walked on this earth, Rome ruled over Palestine. Rome collected several taxes from the people. Tolls for transporting goods where collected by private tax collectors, who in turn paid a fee to the Roman government for the right to assess the levies. The tax collectors charged extra for their own profits. They would hire what were called, publicans who did the actual work of collecting. The publican charged extra for their own wages. Those in this position were often corrupt and tacked on larger amounts than were acceptable.

Matthew was a publican who collected tolls on the road between Damascus and Accho, just outside the city of Capernaum. He was a tax collector, considered corrupt and a traitor by his own people. The Jews would have considered his money to be unclean and would not even ask for change back from him. He was not allowed to testify in court or bring a tithe to the temple. His position rendered him an outcast in his community. He was a Jewish man with no Jewish rights.

But Jesus evidently saw something that others didn't see.

Matthew 9:9 - As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him.

Jesus, the Son of God, the one doing miracles with many, walks to the tax table and speaks. "Follow Me" He says to Matthew. I am sure all that had taken place on the other side of the river had reached the ears of Matthew. His response amazes me. It says, he got up and followed Jesus.

This would have been no small feat. He was in a prosperous position. He was a home owner which was not common for those without wealth. But he got up and left his position as a tax collector behind. He didn't try to work out a deal with Jesus so he could keep his lucrative position and still be a follower. Instead, he turned from his corruption and went with Jesus.

Next thing you know, Matthew is throwing a party to welcome and celebrate Jesus. He wants those he knows to see the real Messiah and meet Him face to face.

Matthew 9:10 - Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house , that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.

This was the real face of Jesus. God coming to save the sinner and heal the sick. Jesus was not upset to see the tax collectors and sinners at His table. I'm sure, instead, He was thrilled. These were the ones He had come to save. But the Pharisees saw it, and said to the disciples "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" They did not get the chance to answer the Pharisee's though. Jesus answers them Himself. He didn’t owe them an explanation but decides to make a strong point to everyone listening.

Matthew 9:12-13 - When Jesus heard that, He said to them "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But you go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Jesus was speaking to the Pharisee's, to those who thought they had everything right. They were righteous, the ones doing all the right the things, obeying the law. They were even teaching the law. But they were also the ones whose hearts were full of evil intent and desire. They believed they were righteous but they had no mercy within them. Instead, there was pride in their hearts.

He tells them, if you think you have it all figured out and need nothing then I didn't come for you. I came for those who are sick. Sadly, they were among the ones which were the most sick of all. Sick full of pride and a hardened heart.

We can learn so much from this piece of scripture as he says to the prideful, "go learn what this means, I desire mercy not sacrifice."

Jesus doesn't need our sacrifices of time or energy. He instead asks our heart to be right. When we are willing to show mercy to those that we see as full of sin, we have a tender, humble heart. That is the heart God can reach. That is the heart that God can use.

So what do we learn from our new friend Matthew. Well, we can see why God would name him a gift. He penned the gospel of Matthew for us which gave us quite a gift. His writing, the gospel according to Matthew has probably been the most influential of all the gospels.

Mostly, I personally have learned from Matthew that there is no one to far gone to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. If Jesus could consider this man as worthy to be one of the twelve, He can make us into anything He desires.

Matthew paid a big price to follow Jesus. He gave up everything, including a position that paid big financially. I am grateful to Him for his decision. It makes mine easier to make. I, a great big sinner, need to see redemption like his.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Great post! Yes the Lord can change the most unlikeliest of people. There are many examples in the bible and many in my family including me. What mercy and what patience He has!