September, 2005: Matthew

The Apostle Matthew is better known for the Gospel of Matthew than for being a key actor in the life and ministry of Jesus. His key moment involved his calling; that he was called was a surprising moment of grace. Matthew’s self-description was that he was a “publican,” (Matthew 9:9), Mark uses the name “Levi son of Alphaeus” to describe him and notes that he is a tax collector.

Upon receiving the call, Matthew gets up from his office and follows Jesus. He then hosts Jesus in his home for dinner. This drew the ire of the Pharisees who complained that Jesus was breaking bread with “sinners and tax collectors.” Jesus responds, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17)

The other mentions of Matthew occur in lists of Apostles. He traveled with Jesus and was a witness to the resurrection. After Pentecost, the verifiable accounts of his ministry are slim. It is generally understood that he proclaimed the gospel among the Jews for fifteen years before going on to other countries. He is thought to have gone to Persia. The accounts of his martyrdom are particularly foggy; there is disagreement about whether he was burned, stoned, beheaded or crucified.

Matthew’s calling is a reminder that God is able to redeem anyone. He was socially despised and reviled as a traitor. Tax collectors received no salary from their positions, their income was based upon their ability to extract a profit above what was owed to the Roman government. Thus, he was considered a legally protected thief or extortionist. That put him on a level with prostitutes and criminals. In the eyes of his society, his greed had taken him as far away from God as possible. Today’s equivalent might be the executives for Enron or the individuals who manipulated the energy markets a few years ago. A tax collector was morally bankrupt.

Jesus sought out Matthew and said, “Come, follow me.”

Matthew invited Jesus home and Jesus said, “Yes.”

Those two things are a great summation of the gospel. The living, risen Lord Jesus Christ calls to each one of us and says, “Come, follow me.”

When we invite Jesus home – into our heart – he says, “Yes.”

The written gospel is a natural outgrowth of Matthew’s experience. From the depths of his being, his cannot help but share the story of the good news he has witnessed in Jesus Christ. His education and training were put to use in collecting the words of Jesus and teaching them in a way that the people (those with ears to hear) could understand them.

Matthew reminds us of the simplicity of the gospel message when we try to make things so complex and nuanced:

Jesus sought out Matthew and said, “Come, follow me.”

Matthew invited Jesus home and Jesus said, “Yes."

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