No one chooses to be an outcast. No one grows up thinking ‘it is my aim to be unpopular, to be disliked when I walk into the room’. How does it happen then? We all have choices, right? First one not-so-good decision, then maybe a bad choice motivated by money and we are hanging with the wrong people. The fellow we are going to consider today was just such a man. And I gotta say that I find this story quite intriguing.
The gospels of Mark and Luke call him ‘Levi’, but in the gospel that bears his name, he calls himself ‘Matthew’. Note: when wanting to know all about a person or an event in the gospels, read it in each gospel where the story is found. You see, the gospels are written by different authors with slightly different takes. Oft, one guy’s account reveals a detail perhaps less important in the other’s perspective.
This short story speaks to me of promise; it speaks of potential and what we can become. It speaks of God’s purpose for our lives as opposed to our own shortsightedness. Here is a link to read the brief passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke describing a calling, a dinner and a conversation: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+9.9-13%3B+Mark+2.13-17%3B+Luke+5.27-32&version=NIV
Once again, we learn more about the person of Jesus. Jesus was undaunted by what Matthew was doing--who he was, where he was, how he identified himself and how others saw him. Jesus saw who he was meant to be; Jesus saw what he could become. I have been reading and rereading the account of Matthew’s calling, looking at it from different angles - and I quite like what we can take from this.
Based on what happened just before this, Jesus was down around the North shore of the Sea of Galilee, probably near where the fishermen came in, where they had to pay taxes on their haul that day to the dreaded, hated tax collector. On this day, that tax collector was Matthew.
Note: in seeking to understand a Scripture passage, we ought first understand its setting and meaning when written. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were hated, perhaps even despised. It was bad enough that they were taking money from folks’ hard-earned wages but they were fellow Jews living alongside them under the heavy hand of Rome. They were viewed as colluding with Rome to make money off their own people!
We watch with some bystanders as Jesus walks by Matthew and says, ‘Follow Me;’ Matthew does. Now, when this guy got up from that table, there was no going back. But Jesus was compelling enough, his message of reaching others powerful enough that Matthew was willing to leave his lucrative post behind.
Yet, as soon as money-grabbing Matthew meets Jesus, the first thing he did was throw a big dinner party for his friends to meet Jesus. [I’m not sure but it seems he went from greedy to generous that day]
And, Friends? Yes, of course he had friends, but they were like him--fellow tax collectors and other unsavory characters. But check out Jesus - though he knew the flack he would take from the watching religious leaders, after Matthew said ‘yes’ to him, he said ‘yes’ to Matthew and went to meet his friends and have dinner with them at his house. Don’t you love that?
What do we draw from this today? Most of us are not in a culture where people look down their noses on others because of their jobs - or are we? Since the most common question we first ask someone after learning his name is ‘So what do you do?’ The response often elicits a judgment, even if it is just mental. We are oft impressed by a prestigious job and unimpressed by a seemingly unimportant one.
But Jesus? He looked past Matthew’s unsavory career path and saw what he could be if he followed Him. Huh, maybe if you gave your cousin a hand, prayed for him, he could get free from his prescription drugs. Maybe if that girl you knew came back to Jesus, she would not be so quick to pick up ‘the bottle’.
Here’s the thing--I know that Jesus looks at each one of us and sees us made in His image. I know he looks at us and never gives up on us - that we will walk closely with him and become who he knows we are meant to be. He sees each of us with the capacity to live a life of meaning and purpose.
So who are you meant to be?
For some, most of your life is in the rearview mirror; you can still choose to follow Jesus who alone will enable you to fulfill your destiny. Just ask Matthew!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LawxIZE9ePE. SAME GOD. This song!