Read Matthew 9:9-13
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’” (Mark 2:15-17, NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 171: Matthew. When we think of tax collectors today, we probably think nothing more about them than that they are a person doing their job. Granted, thinking about the tax collector is different than thinking about the taxes themselves. No one, throughout all of history, has ever enjoyed paying their taxes. With that said, most of us do not personally despise the person working behind the desk at town hall, taking checks and handing out receipts.
The same thing is true when I go to my accountant to claim my file my income taxes. Sure, I may not always be happy that I owe “x” amount of dollars to the state and federal government; however, I do not personally despise my accountant for giving me the news and setting up the payments. I am sure accountants have to deal with angry people when they find out said bad news; however, I would imagine few (if any) are wishing or plotting the deaths of their accountants. Nor are they doing that for the person at town hall.
In Jesus’ day, the tax collector WAS DESPISED. They were seen as absolute traitors to their country and to their people. Why, you might ask? Because, properly speaking, they were working for the Roman Empire. Before we even go there, let me state that again: they were JEWS working for the Roman Empire to collect the imperial tax that was owed Caesar. To understand this on a deeper level, we have to understand that Israel was NOT ROMAN.
The Jews built an alliance with the Romans when during their revolt against the Seleucid Dynasty. Once the Jews won freedom from the Seleucid Empire under the leadership of the Judas Maccabeus, they established the Hasmonean Dynasty which lasted for 128 years. Toward the end of that time, a civil war broke out between supporters of the Hasmonean Dynasty and those that felt there should be no king, but that the nation should be a theocracy ruled by a council of clergy. As such, those wishing for a theocracy turned to Rome for help against the Hasmonean King and his army.
Rome saw this invite as a golden opportunity to come in and seize control of the land, which was strategic for them and, in essence, gave them control of the entire Mediterranean Sea. The rest is a long, but brutal history of oppression by the Romans that started with TAXATION. They at first taxed the people for their support and then, as they conquered all of Judea, they seized control and imposed more taxes upon them. Rome was no longer an ally; rather, Rome was sovereign and Judea was its subject, a province in the expansive Empire.
So, Jews had much disdain for anyone who aligned themselves with the empire. Tax collectors were the worst of the worst when it came to that. Not only were they fellow Jews working to collect what was due Rome, but they were also robbing their own people blind and getting rich off of it. They would charge their own people more than what they owed and kept the difference for themselves. If anyone refused to pay, they had them arrested. They were traitors.
So, when Jesus approached Levi the Tax Collector, this is who he approached. He approached a person who was viewed by everyone as a traitor to his own people and, ultimately, a traitor to God. Yet, Jesus not only approached him, but he invited him to leave behind his life of sin and to follow him. What’s more, he wipes the slate clean and renames him Matthew. No longer is he Levi the tax collector. Now he is Matthew, the disciple of Christ. And that disciple went on to become an apostle and, by tradition, the author of one of the most beloved Gospels in the New Testament.
Matthew reminds us that, no matter how much we’ve sinned and how far from God we might find ourselves, that there is a life for us in Christ. There is no sin too great, and no sinner too wicked for Christ to invite into fellowship and followership. Conversely, it should also remind us who are Christians the same exact thing! There is no sin too great, and no sinner too wicked, for us to invite into the life of the Church. After all, we’ve all been invited in, haven’t we? If we, who are sinners, can be included, then anyone can be included. Let us, as the church not forget the unconditional, radical, transformative love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Go [to God] as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell; and you shall then find favor in His sight and know that He justifies the ungodly.” – John Wesley in Justification by Faith
Lord, truly I am unworthy of the grace you have given me. Let your grace shine through me in a way that magnifies your glory to all the world. Amen.