“There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; and are justified (made right) freely by the grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22b-24)
Like the brothers James and John, Simon and Andrew, when Jesus called Levi-Matthew, the latter had already heard about Him and therefore following the Master as He had commanded them did not seem a big deal. All of them had made informed choices, having marvelled at Jesus’ miracles. But Matthew’s case however was a different ball game. How? You may ask. We are about to find out.
Matthew was a despised tax collector. He wore two caps: his first cap – he was working for the colonial masters who were occupying Israel at the time. In other words, he was siding with the enemy against his own kit and kin. For this reason, he had kept his distance, knowing he had a bad reputation. His second cap -- as tax collector, he was known for extracting money out of people by way of taxes, on behalf of the oppressor and benefitting from it personally. Thus, he had exploited his position to create wealth for himself by collecting more than the normal dues and putting the extras into his pocket. In view of his untoward behaviour, he became isolated and to a certain extent ostracised.
Imagine therefore what went through Matthew’s head when he received an invitation from our Lord Jesus to come with Him. Yes, our Lord Jesus knew who he was. He knew what practices he was engaged in as a tax collector, but beyond that facade, He saw someone who could be redeemed. Added to Matthew’s surprise, our Lord Jesus called him by name revealing that he knew him.
Undoubtedly, Matthew was disgusted with his profession and must have been looking for an exit, but to no avail. So when this golden opportunity fell on his lap, he was willing to leave everything behind, to turn his back on a life of greed, falsehood and shame in order to open a new page of hope in a changed life. If he had turned down this invitation, he would have forever lingered in the mud, soaked in this despicable habit of earning a living off people’s backs -- by fleecing them.
Matthew in his status could not have voluntarily offered to follow our Lord Jesus. He thought himself unfit and must have feared rejection. In his heart of hearts, he knew he did not qualify. But our Lord Jesus, who knows all things, could hear his heart cry as he yearned for a change from this miserable tax collector’s booth -- from where he was practising his profession. The fact of the matter is that our Lord Jesus can change anyone who is dissatisfied with his or her lifestyle. That is one of the reasons for which He came down to earth from heaven.
Matthew had, from his corrupt practices, been ranked amongst the rich of the society of his day. On meeting the Lord, he threw a dinner on His behalf and he also invited his fellow tax collectors. As a friend of sinners, our Lord Jesus honoured the invitation, for He had seen in the downtrodden, the wretched of the earth, the poor, the sick and the oppressed, the good that the naked eye could not perceive. He knew that as children of God their circumstances had overpowered them and that the evil one had entangled them in a web that He had come to disentangle.
The first to cry foul were the Pharisees, the upholders of the Law, the so-called righteous who judged themselves the standard by which others should live. They were opposed to our Lord Jesus’ move and had made the comment; “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (verse 11) In other words, why has your Master brought Himself that low?
Our Lord Jesus perceived what they were thinking in their hearts and before His disciples could utter a response, He interjected. “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.’ ” (verse 12--13)
These religious leaders did not have the welfare or the interest of the people at heart. Theirs was to display and use their authority to lord it over the people they had responsibility over. Jesus by contrast, was extending a compassionate and helping hand. He was not preoccupied with His status as the Son of God. His desire was to bring relief to all whom the devil had held bound.
Through this medium, our Lord Jesus could reach out to so many of Matthew’s colleagues and collaborators. By exchanging with them and not condemning them, He was going to open their eyes to their mistakes and their excesses and win them back onto the right course.
This account teaches us that our imperfections do not constitute a barrier or obstacle per se for our Lord Jesus to reach out to us. He could interpret Matthew’s heartbeats and his desire to put this disgraceful life behind him. Remember He had done the same for Zacchaeus another tax collector in Jericho. Zacchaeus had gone looking for our Lord Jesus because he had nursed an overwhelming concern. He sought to break loose from this ‘debilitating disease of greed’ but could not. When he heard about Jesus and the miracles he could perform, he was curious. Deep within his heart, he saw Him as the answer. Though his stature posed an obstacle, he decided to climb a tree so he could have full view of this man he had heard so much about. By so doing, he created the right location for Jesus to spot him. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (verse 56) Zacchaeus could not believe his ears.
As was expected, “... the people saw this and began to mutter.’ He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (verse 7) The account concludes by saying Zacchaeus repented and gave half of his possessions to the poor and those he had swindled he paid four times the amount.” (verse 8)
Jesus did not distinguish Himself from sinners. How could He have reached them otherwise? He never accused them of any wrong doing either. His presence alone sufficed to bring a change down the road they were sliding. When we have an encounter with the Lord, a supernatural transformation takes place – a thorough and lasting change for the better occurs.
Are you dissatisfied with the way you are living? Then it is time to seek an appointment with our Lord Jesus. The Bible clearly states that; “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)