I’ve always had a soft spot for Matthew, though it took me a while to figure out why. He wasn’t the “rock”. He wasn’t the “beloved disciple”. He isn’t even mentioned all that much… not even in the gospel that carries his name.
Part of me likes him because he was a tax collector and my professional background is in accounting. (Bean counters have to stick together.)
But, what I really love is the one time we see him active in the Bible—when he’s called.
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.Matthew 9:9
There is so much going on in these two sentences.
First of all, Matthew is just sitting around being a tax collector when Jesus shows up. This was not a reputable profession. At that time, the Jewish people were subject to Roman rule. The tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Roman government. They often overcharged people and pocketed the difference. Basically, they had sold their people out for a profit.
Jesus walks by and he’s all, “Hey! Come with me!”
The story here is what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Look, Matthew, I can tell that you have some potential. You could be a great apostle someday. But, first you really need to clean up your act. How about you go get a respectful job and stop hanging out with sinners. After you prove yourself worthy, we’ll see about you becoming one of my disciples.”
No. He called Matthew right where he was. And Matthew went.
That right there. That takes some serious faith. You know that you’re a sinner. You know that you’re in a profession that steals from your people. You know that other people are going to question your worthiness. Heck, you even question your worthiness. But, you go anyway.
It’s not too hard to leave behind a righteous lifestyle to adopt a slightly more righteous lifestyle. But, to leave your profession and turn your entire life on its head the moment Jesus says “follow me” is extraordinary.
How often do many of us think we need to clean up our act before we can follow Jesus? How many of us get all of this entirely backwards and think that we need to be perfect, sinless, faith-filled automatons before coming into the presence of God? We don’t have to become transformed before we get to God; We are transformed by God.
Matthew didn’t continue collecting taxes. He left that behind. But, I think it’s important that he wasn’t required to change his ways beforehand, but rather he left that life behind in the process of following Jesus.