Matthew 9:9 (NIV)
9 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.
When I started my theological studies in North Adelaide at Lutheran Seminary there was a fellow student who started at the same time. He had been working at the Australian Taxation Office in Adelaide before studying to become a pastor.
This fellow had enjoyed his job – especially when he had to chase bad tax debts. He was often tasked with repossession of personal assets of tax defaulters. He knew the law and he applied it to the letter.
Yet God chose this man to become a pastor – he was called from a vocation which had not made him many friends.
I reckon St Matthew would have been a bit like my old Seminary classmate – un-popular with most of the local population. We get a glimpse of who Matthew’s friends were – fellow tax collectors and sinners.
These sinners were people on the outer of polite society – people whom the Pharisees would not normally have had anything to do with because of the lifestyles they led – people who probably didn’t go anywhere near the Temple or synagogue, let alone a Pharisees home.
We have these people in our community too. I doubt very much that the Pharisees would have anything to do with: the car window washers on the corner of Mill Street and Ulster Street who collect coins for washing windows, the solo parents in motels or the beggars hanging around local businesses.
Not that many modern-day tax collectors would associate with he folk I’ve just mentioned either. Every community has someone who just doesn’t seem to fit very well – who isn’t socially acceptable for one reason or another.
Jesus had spent a lot of time healing the sick after He had preached the Sermon on the Mount. He had summed up the main moral teachings of the Old Testament and addressed the spiritual needs of humanity.
Matthew, when writing his Gospel account says Jesus, “… was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Jesus interpreted and applied the Scriptures so that they came to life for those who heard Him preach.
Jesus had been helping and healing: lepers, paralytics, Peter’s mother-in-law, drawing a crowd around Himself, calming a storm, casting out demons before he headed back to Capernaum where He had recently been living (Mark 4:13).
Crossing the border between the territories controlled by Phillip and Herod Antipas where commercial tolls would have been levied Jesus saw Matthew at work in his toll booth. Jesus issues a simple, yet profound call to Matthew, “Follow Me!”
The amazing thing is, Matthew did – no questions asked - immediately he followed Jesus. From the text we see Jesus then lead Matthew to his home (that is Matthew’s house) for dinner. From no-where it seems, Matthew’s house and table were filled with the cities “undesirables” (at least according the to Pharisees response to what they saw).
The presence of Matthew’s fellow tax collectors and other sinners certainly got the establishment upset – the Pharisees couldn’t believe that someone who was gaining a reputation as having God given authority to heal and teach would lower himself to eat with such a disreputable rabble.
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel we see Jesus healing the sick, going where no “up-right” person should and associating with those who would, theoretically speaking, make Him unclean and unacceptable in the worship spaces of Judaism.
Matthew, himself an outcast, has a heart for the downtrodden in society, opening his home to them. Even more important for us, Matthew records Jesus story for us so that we have a full account of God’s grace and favour which is extended especially to the poor, the sick and those on the fringe of the community.
The oppressive Roman empire, in which Jesus lived, was supported by men like Matthew who worked for the foreign rulers. Seen by the locals, Matthew was a traitor who probably extorted more tax than was legally required. This man of questionable character became a leader in the Christian Church at Jesus call.
Matthew, a tax collector, would have had his ear to the ground so to speak, - he had the government in one ear and the populace in the other.
As Matthew writes his Gospel account he tells the story in all its rawness, sharing the fears and rivalries at work – especially those trying to undermine Jesus work – work which would eventually see Jesus on a cross on Calvary to fulfil Old Testament prophesy and bring about our salvation.
Matthew wants us to understand exactly why Jesus came from heaven to earth, gained a reputation as a healer and preacher with authority only to be crucified a common criminal.
Although little is known about the person of Matthew, we know his heart – what he believed was important for us, and the world, to know. As a tax collector, Matthew would have known his maths, record keeping and reporting. We see this in his Gospel account of Jesus mission and ministry which is very structured.
The genealogy of Jesus recorded in chapter one is in three parts, highlighting Jesus’ significant human ancestors. In chapter six of the Gospel there are three illustrations of hypocrisy and pure piety which teach us what is important in the Kingdom of God.
In chapter 13 there are three parables of planting and growth which deserve more study as we here at St Matthew seek to plant the seed of the Gospel in our community and look for growth.
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel there are five examples which illustrate the full intention of God’s law:
- Chapters 5-7, The Sermon on the Mount
- Chapter 10, a discourse on the mission of the church
- Chapter 13, parables concerning the growth of the church
- Chapter 18, a discourse on forgiveness
- Chapters 23-25 a discourse on the culmination of human history
The Gospel according to St Matthew powerfully highlights the extreme limits to which Jesus goes to bring God’s grace to struggling and broken people – even to the extent of giving “his shirt off his back”.
There is no doubt St Matthew’s Gospel is for the poor. Jesus’ Kingdom is promised to the “poor in spirit”, thus this is the Gospel for all people.
In Chapter eight Jesus heals a leper who could not be helped by the law, law which would exclude him from the worshipping community. Jesus restores the dignity of a woman when she was regarded as being less than human by the religious community.
In the God inspired writings of St Matthew we find the message that “the perfect grace of God is at work” through the person of Jesus the Christ.
This is no better illustrated than by the fact that Jesus chose Matthew, offered him His Divine forgiveness – this to one who was regarded as a traitor by the synagogue, who now with Christ is made a Disciple, an Apostle with whom Jesus shares table fellowship.
Because Jesus can do this, transcend the boundaries of respectability, we too have been invited to dine with Him and we can at His command invite the “sinners and tax collectors” of our day to share this fellowship.
God has placed us here in Whitiora in the congregation of St Matthew to honour the Biblical tradition of hospitality to those who don’t fit respectability so that Jesus can bestow His respectability on them as He has done for us.
Volume Two of the Lutheran Bible Companion says,
“How rigorous and all inclusive Jesus’ call to repentance is can again be seen by an extreme case: Jesus calls just the righteous to repentance; more, He imposes the call to repentance upon the men who have become His disciples too (18:1-4). When Jesus bid’s His disciples love their enemies, He has removed every limitation form their loving (5:44). … How completely Jesus binds the disciple to Himself can be seen in the fact that Jesus makes His own cross (the climax of His life and ministry) the impulse and standard of the disciple’s ministry (10:38; 16:24; 20:25-28). In all these ways, the Gospel amplifies the uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching and mercy, which create a distinct body of disciples.”
This is us at St Matthew.