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Follow Me... Matthew

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Levi Had a Job

It was a comfortable job. Sit behind a table on the main road. Check a person off on the paper to ensure they have paid their yearly taxes to the Roman government.
It was supportive and fulfilling. We don’t know if Matthew was married or not. Who would want to marry a tax collector? His job supported his lifestyle and all his needs for food, clothing, and shelter would have been covered and more. In fact, he was able to through large parties.
It was a permanent job. Two truths in this world… death and taxes. Matthew’s job was permanent. There was no fear of it ending. The tax booth in which Matthew and his co-workers were set up was along the international highway between Syria and Egypt. This was the key trading route between the north and east and Egypt. The nations of the world would pass through Israel/Judah with goods to trade and sell. Tariffs would be charge for those transporting goods. Like a toll booth.
This position was important for the Romans… who received a lot of money because of it. Matthew had a guaranteed job. It was probably a protected position as well. With the nations of the world passing through, Roman soldiers were probably posted nearby to protect the tax collectors… who had a large pile of coins surrounding them. This was a protected investment.
Matthew had a good job. He was in a comfortable position. He had a job.

Levi Had a Hard Job

Tax collectors are not famous and well loved people. No one liked them in Jesus time. Few like them today.
We heard the federal budget this past week. Not a lot of joy in it for most people. Granted, our bottom line on our tax return probably won’t change very much at all… but the deficit for this budget is out of this world. Someone will have to pay off the almost $29 billion bill for this year… not including last year or the coming year. No one likes the tax man… but we do enjoy the benefits, the social welfare system we live in in Canada as compared to what is in place south of the border.
No one liked the local tax collectors… so Matthew’s job was not easy. Tax collectors worked for the Romans. They were the enemy. Matthew was seen as a collaborator with Rome.
This is almost the same as those who collaborated with the Nazis in WWII. They were looked at with suspicion and hate.
Matthew and his co-workers were looked at with hate as well. For a host or reasons. They worked closely with the Romans. They were rich… often off the backs of fellow Jews.
Tax collectors were like self-employed business owners. They were paid through the work they did. The accepted percentage from tariffs and taxation was 5%. However, with Roman muscle right beside the table to squash any questions, tax collectors would often charge 7-10%.
Thieves. Crooks. Robbers. Swindlers. And worse. That’s what a tax collector was.
They were hated. They were dishonest. They colluded with the enemy on the backs of their people. Whom they had given up on.
Tax collectors were probably ignored, rejected, ostracized in the synagogues… and markets… and villages.
Matthew’s job was not easy. His life was not altogether pleasant.

Levi is Called

Mark tells us that Levi was the son of Alphaeus. He lived in the region of Galilee. Near to where Jesus grew up. It is possible that Levi knew Jesus earlier in life.
Matthew certainly would have heard about and even witnessed some of the miracles that took place in the region of Galilee. Jesus’ preaching, along with the religious leader run ins would have been the water cooler conversation in the weeks that followed. This is something that Jesus and the tax collectors had in common… the religious establishment didn’t like them.
There was one point in Jesus ministry when the religious leaders asked him about paying taxes. Jesus asked for a coin… asked them about whose image was on it. Caesar they said. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to the Lord what is the Lord’s.”
One would have to hope that Matthew lived a righteous and just life. That he was honest in his collecting. That he was fair and did not take more than was expected.
Jesus must have walked by the tax booth on other occasions… but nothing is said or recorded. This time… as Jesus walks by, he turns to Matthew and says, “Follow me.”
Jesus must have walked by the tax booth on other occasions… but nothing is said or recorded. This time… as Jesus walks by, he turns to Matthew and says, “Follow me.”
Nothing more.
One wonders what Matthew was and now is thinking. Was he dissatisfied with his position? Is he tired of the ridicule? Has life become too comfortable? Midlife crisis?
Immediately, Matthew responds to the invitation. He gets up and leaves everything and follows Jesus.
Decisive and immediate. No questions. No voiced concerns. Matthew gets up and leaves his well paying job, trusting that God would provide for all his needs.
Would we be able… or willing to do this? For real? Could we leave it all behind and take a step into the unknown? Would we want to? Why would we?
Matthew had wealth. Because after being called by Jesus, he hosts a great banquet. Matthew has invited his co-workers, a large crowd of tax collectors and friends. Shady characters. Publicans and sinners. People despised by the Pharisees and religious leaders.
Jesus is mingling with these people. Eating and drinking implies a covenant relationship. To sit and break bread with someone was more than just eating. It was a mutual sharing event. To dip bread into the same bowl, was to be in a brotherly relationship.

Sick Need Doctors… Jesus Calls Sinners

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law and everyone who belonged to that sect had issue with Jesus spending time with tax collectors and sinners. To be in that kind of social relationship… eating and drinking with them was wrong. Ethically and morally. Jesus was doing the wrong thing!
Here the Pharisees are making the diagnosis that Jesus is sick and in need of help, of correction. Jesus doesn’t hobnob with these people of low reputation
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