READ: Matthew 9:9-17
9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, Follow me. And he rose and followed him. 10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? 12 But when he heard it, he said, Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. 14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast? 15 And Jesus said to them, Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.
Now we need to discuss Matthew himself. First off, there is a lot of discussion in the scholarship about whether Matthew the Apostle -- tax collector Matthew -- is also the gospel writer who gave us our present subject. There are arguments on both sides. The most compelling seems to me to be the idea that, out of humility, both Matthew and later, John, don't ever talk about themselves in the first person. Luke does some of this in his later discussions of the missionary journeys with Paul (chapters 26-28 of Acts).
So here is this strange sentence sticking out in the text like an inviting sore thumb: "he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, Follow me. And he rose and followed him." If the Matthew who is sitting at the tax booth isn't the same man who wrote the gospel the sentence means little. But imagine that you are writing about yourself with the clarity that only thirty years' distance from an event can give you, and you come to the part in the story where you made the key decision of your life. How would you report it?
Our modern culture doesn't like the idea of conversion, especially not the kind of conversion that is sudden and un-equivocating. We are trained to it. We have pre-nuptial agreements and escape clauses so we never find ourselves in a situation we can't get out of. In our world there are no ultimate truths because that would mean there are ultimate falsehoods. There are no absolutes because that would mean that certain things are just wrong. But if there is one thing we can be certain of it is that a tax collector of the First Century AD (excuse me... CE... wouldn't want to leave anyone out as we mark time) knew where he stood in his culture.
The tax collectors were as hated a group as any in culture. They were Jews who were hated by Jews because they in some way represented the Roman oppressors. But they weren't respected by the Romans either because they were Jews who were for sale at a price. They were, to a person, dishonest. They had been told to collect a certain percentage for Rome. Anything else they could extract was theirs to keep. As a result, they were tollerated, but only with the thin veneer of civility with which those seeking credit from Dickens' Scrooge might have deferred to him. Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10ff) illustrates this social distinction well.
Had Matthew met Jesus before that day in town? Could this possibly have been a first meeting? If so, the power of Jesus personality or the unction of the Holy Spirit or both must have been dramatic at that moment. Matthew doesn't think for a moment; doesn't weigh his options; doesn't even consider what he's about to throw away for this man. He simply gets up from his tax booth and walks off with Jesus.
Was your conversion that dramatic? Or are you still, after many years of what one author recently called "dating Jesus", weighing your options. If so, you're still behind your tax booth. You don't really want a savior. You don't really want a Lord. You want someone wise you can talk things out with from time to time and then, when you're done with them, someone you can leave and come back to again just as so many of our contemporary youth do with their dating relationships.
Even so, Jesus sees you as you are, you tax collector. I can say that without sounding judgemental because I know that's how he saw me. I knew when I said yes to him that I was unacceptable. And it didn't matter because he had said the one thing to me that no one else could. He said, "God shows his love for (you) in that while (you) were still (a tax collector...an immoral man...a weak person...a drunk...a greedy person...a liar...[fill in the blank], Christ died for YOU." Oh, the words were Romans 5:8, but I knew it was Jesus, standing in front of my booth, just quietly saying, "Follow me."
Don't give it a second thought! Whether you've never heard him call you before or whether you've gone half-way for Christ all your life -- Do it now! I implore you: get up and follow him. He may not come this way again.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.