Matthew was a tax collector. He made his living by taking money from his fellow Jews and giving it to the Romans. To be more specific, if he was like other tax collectors he made a living by taking more than required from his fellow Jews, giving the required amount to Rome and then keeping the extra for himself. It is not a stretch to assume that he was not a well-liked man.
Tax collectors were despised by the religious leaders, considered unworthy. Which makes Jesus’ choice of Matthew to be one of his 12 closest disciples remarkable. Why would Jesus pick him? Didn’t Jesus know Matthew’s history?
There can be no doubting that Jesus knew. Matthew was sitting in his tax collection booth at the moment Jesus called to him and told Matthew to become one of his followers! Why would Jesus do this?
The Bible does no specifically answer this question but in Matthew’s account of this interaction, found in Matthew 9:9, there may be a clue. Look at how Jesus’ actions are described-
“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.” Matthew 9:9 ESV
Take note of what Jesus is described as seeing. “A man called Matthew.”
Jesus saw Matthew as first and foremost a man, not as a tax collector. It appears that to Jesus, Matthew was a man who happened to be a tax collector, not a tax collector who happened to be man. I think this is how Jesus sees everyone. He sees us as people, created in the image of God, deserving of love, and he desires to enter into relationship with us. What we have done is insignificant when compare to who we are.
Jesus’ attitude was the polar opposite of the attitude of the religious leaders of that time. We see in the passage (and a parallel passage in Mark 2) that after calling to Matthew Jesus went to a dinner at Matthew’s home. They were joined there by several of Matthew’s friends. See how the pharisees described the members of Jesus’ dinner party-
“And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:11 ESV
It seems that the pharisees saw the men and evaluated their worth first and foremost on their past actions, not on their humanity. Their judgmental attitude led to their judgmental response.
Makes me stop and think about how I look at people. When I look at others, what is the first thing I see? What do I see as their identifying characteristic?
If I want to be a follower of Jesus, I need to first see their inherent value as people, created in the image of God and worthy of love.
This post is one in a series of midweek posts based on lessons learned from my weekly men’s bible study. Other posts on non-religious topics are usually shared on weekends.