Sometimes we dive into a Bible study and get right into the verses- especially in the Gospels where the focus is on Jesus and His teaching ministry. We want to know what He said and what He did so that we can live the way He taught us. We never give much thought to who compiled that information and wrote it down because, after all, the Gospels are not autobiographies. But the Gospel of Matthew contains one autobiographical moment that is both compelling and surprising in its brevity and simplicity. One would also think this moment would be one of the first things Matthew records, but it doesn’t show up until chapter 9. One would also think that Matthew would include a little more detail about himself but only Mark’s Gospel includes the name of his father (Mk. 2:14). With the lack of specific information that our 21st century minds are accustomed to the focus remains solely on the action- that is the moment when Jesus called Matthew and how Matthew responded to that call. However, that doesn’t mean some of those details are lost to us. It just means we have to do a little research.
It is noted that Jesus comes upon Matthew working at a tax collector’s booth in Capernaum (either at the dock collecting customs or on the international road which ran through the city taking tolls). Jesus sees him and gives a simple but direct command, “Follow Me” (Mt. 9:9). There are no deliberations or excuses to put off a response as previously demonstrated by two would-be disciples in Mt. 8:18-22. Matthew immediately gets up and follows. There are two amazing aspects concerning this. First, tax collectors were not welcome in most circles. They were considered to be traitors working for the oppressive Roman government. They were also distrusted as most added exorbitant surcharges on to the taxes they collected to pocket for themselves. They were generally ostracized and barred from the synagogue and the Temple so it was a rather lonely life in many ways. So, Jesus’ call to a despised tax collector should definitely raise a few eyebrows. The second aspect which holds a great surprise is Matthew’s willingness to walk away from what might have been a very cushy lifestyle. There was something so compelling, so inviting about Jesus’ invitation that Matthew knew then and there that Jesus was the answer to whatever he’d been searching and hoping for in life.
It probably took some major attitude adjusting for the other disciples to see Matthew as part of Jesus’ inner circle. But Jesus was always stretching their comfort zone! However, the talents and skills Matthew had as a tax collector (not the unlawful ones!) made him an accurate and detailed observer of Jesus’ ministry and a precise record-keeper. And in spite of being distanced from the synagogue and Temple worship, he was a wealth of Scriptural knowledge, often recognizing the connection between Jesus and Scriptures pointing to the work and ministry of the Messiah. His call and response was indeed, dynamic but so was his brand of discipleship.
Matthew’s moment of decision is also ours. No matter where we are or what we are doing, there is a point where Jesus says, “Follow Me!” and He waits for our response. The Lord has given each of us the ability to be His servant and He invites us to join Him on an amazing adventure called discipleship. Matthew didn’t know beforehand that the very skills he had used as a tax collector would become assets when it came to recording the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but Jesus did. The same is true for you and I. So, how will you use your skills and abilities for Him today?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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