We can’t be absolutely sure who wrote Matthew’s gospel. Many believe it was Matthew the tax collector, one of Jesus “twelve”. Some question that. I am going with that today. In any case, even if it wasn’t Matthew the tax collector, it was someone who was a sinner!
From what we know of Matthew, before this day when he was called into Jesus’ way, Matthew had been not merely desiring sacrifice from people, but demanding it with little room for mercy.
His whole life was centred on demand from people rather than mercy to people. As a result, it would be fairly right to assume that there was little mercy anywhere in his life.
As we know, Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman military system in Israel. Matthew surely would have found himself in a really tricky and life-sapping situation.
On the one hand his overlords would have constantly demanded everything from him. They would have constantly demanded that Matthew stays loyal and get his job done in collecting that tax, making his weekly quota from the community. On the other hand, his community would not have exactly overwhelmed him with mercy! He would not have gotten a birthday card from anyone on his birthday!
In fact, as we can often hear in the words of the Jewish community leaders, Matthew was lumped into the ‘untouchables’ class – a member of the despised and dismissed ‘tax collectors and sinners’ class.
Still, he did have money and protection, I guess. But only to a point. All was well if he kept demanding, kept getting from people, kept paying off the Roman overlords. The minute he did not demand or rested or stop taking from people, that Roman money and protection would vanish.
What a way to live. Always meeting demands. Always needing to take from people to fulfil someone else’s or your own expectations of who you are and what your life is supposed to be about, always fearing the removal of income, protection and the ability to live.
Sounds like a very human problem. Sounds like a problem we all live with in varying degrees. – demands, paying off people, meeting someone’s expectations of us, meeting our own expectations based on someone’s views or some experience we have had, always scared of failing, being without a good name or financial security … A merciless existence, to say the least!
Is this you today?
Do you feel that you are in this constant ‘demand’ space, a long way from mercy?
What does this high demand on you and high demanding of others around you do to you and them?
How would it be to be a person in Matthew’s position? constantly threatened on the one hand and despised on the other?
I guess you could just power on, as we say. Ignore the demands and keep on demanding whatever you need to make your life what you believe it should be. Problem is you might wear all friends out, and in the end, wear yourself out and find yourself in a lonely, isolated place.
You could do the other thing: withdraw from life and mercy and love. If being by yourself in your own space is the only safe place where the demanding on you and the demanding from you stops, and some peace and rest and hope begins, that is where you would want to stay.
Friends, is that not what we are seeing in our culture? Isolated people, lonely people, withdrawn young people who just cannot do school or work. Adults who are locked into their work, and only their work, their house and only their house …
So many of us seem convinced that we will never amount to much and that whatever we do in life has to come from within ourselves because there is no one else calling, inviting, welcoming, offering a new thing and bigger thing to which we can move and flourish.
Enter Matthew’s little telling of the day he found mercy; the day he received a new life and bigger heart and global and eternal cause in which he was enlisted. Someone finally called!
The man who has the power to exact endless sacrifices in the form of taxation now tells his own story of what the call of Jesus meant for him.
In a nutshell, God is mercy way more than demand. God desires mercy above demanding. God’s heart is to gift mercy to you, not demand it from you.
Now for Matthew, God is no longer a demanding overlord, like the local Roman officials, God is mercy and kindness who is interested in these gifts rather than meeting expectations and demanding anything from others.
Now Matthew has discovered that God does not demand his sacrifices but gifts his mercy to Matthew regardless of any sacrifice he might make.
At his heart, God is more interested in Matthew than he is in what Matthew can or cannot sacrifice. God just wants to relate to Matthew not what Matthew can do.
Can you imagine the swelling of that man’s heart in this transformative good news? Matthew must have moved from a scared, sometimes angry, sometime proud, often unsure, hiding away person always on guard waiting for the next verbal barb in any street, in his little tax booth and everywhere else.
Now, ‘Someone’ called; called me. Someone wanted me and not just what I can get for them. Someone enlisted me, gifted me even when I did not pay or even could pay.
Even deeper, He knew my name. He called be by name without a barb, a put down, a so called, “joke’. He called me by my name in love. Someone knows me and still wants to be with me and wants to relate to me and even give me the gifts of love and hope and peace and purpose for a whole new life.
Matthew’s whole way of seeing and living is upside down. He is no longer required to take from people to appease God. He is no longer required to keep paying God off to stay safe. Now he is called to receive and then give away freely. He is called to receive this calling and call others in.
By the time Matthew has shared this little account of the day he was called to new life in Jesus’ community, he has seen that this way of God is really true. He has seen Jesus heal many an unwell woman, even raise a dead young girl, and call everyday people just like him into this new community.
And how many evening meals had he been a part of – meals where so called ‘righteous people’ dine freely with that bottom of the rung group where Matthew used to be – ‘tax collectors and sinners’?
What would Matthew ask you today? Would he ask you if you are still trying to pay God off for his blessing and safety and avoidance of hardship?
Would he challenge you by saying that if you are still trying to be good enough to earn God’s blessing and favour in your life, then your following of him will be forced labour that you will eventually resent, if you don’t already.
Matthew inspires me to ponder where I am at with Jesus. Do I live like I have to do more to please God before he will be kind to me in all the issues, questions, sins and doubts I struggle in?
Do I have to keep my nose clean or pray harder, or study the bible more or be more patient with that friend or don’t associate with that group or that media outlet or site, lest I lose God’s favour and blessing on my reputation, my finances, my health?
Friends, living like that is hard labour because it is forced labour. It would be as grindingly loathsome as paying those unreasonable and hated taxes every week to that despised man that Mathew used to be!
But for Matthew, it is obviously all he goes to on to share of what he witnesses with Jesus, that his life is now no forced labour which we will eventually resent but a life calling that makes us: makes us fully alive, fully human, open to all the tax collectors and sinners, aware of people’s names, people of hope with words to say and a life to gladly give in loyalty and sacrifice to the man who sacrificed his all for us.
Friend, the Saviour is calling. I think he is saying to you again, “I am giving you everything you need for this new life. I want you, not just what you not merely what you can give. I want to live with you, not just get from you.
So now, keeping your nose clean to stay in God’s good books is unnecessary because even tax collectors, ‘sick people’ are made new for new lives. Now there is no group, no movie, no media, no group of people that can sever your relationship with God because Jesus has called you in love and given you his authority to love people in every scene of your life.
Living in Jesus call is no forced labour. It is free labour I am compelled to do by the Lord who has given me and still gives me my very life in his new community.
Is that what Jesus wanted us to ‘get’; from those words of Hosea (6:6)?