“The Chosen”

      Eyes to See

 Perhaps you have heard of “The Chosen,” a popular video production. The first eight episodes have been out for awhile, with more to come. They portray the life of Christ, often from the view of his chosen disciples.

Jesus is depicted as winsome and sincere as he teaches, heals and performs amazing miracles in their midst. 

I highly recommend this series to you. It is very biblically based and is careful with the fictional parts. After the scenes with Nicodemus, I said, “That was really well done.” Of course, I have a special affinity for Nicodemus after writing my second book about him. (A Heart for Truth) 

Another episode is entirely about Jesus with a few children. All we have in Scripture about children is admonishing us to bring them up in the faith and Jesus’ words to “bring the little children to me.” This episode imagines how Jesus would react with only a group of children. It is quite delightful.

As John said,

Jesus did many other things as well. If everyone of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. John 21:25

We may envision the disciples in different ways. I always pictured Peter as tall, big, and burly. “The Chosen” Peter is short and thin and a bit high strung. It is obvious that, even though he is portrayed as slowly emerging as leader, he has a way to go in understanding what this is all about. We read about Peter’s impetuous behavior in Scripture, so this portrayal makes sense.

The Matthew character is another story. Matthew does not match my imagined personality. “The Chosen” Matthew has Aspergers, a form of autism. He is very intelligent, lacking in social norms, and has slight nervous  movements with his head and hands. But then, Scripture gives us very little of the disciples’ personalities, so we may visualize them in different ways.

Two types of tax collectors were found in that day, the collector for the people of the city, as in the movie, or a collector on the trade route for traveling caravans. Several sources seemed to feel that Matthew was a trade route collector, so I followed that portrayal. 

Interestingly enough, we both portray Matthew as butting heads with his father. In my book, I begin with him as a child. In the movie, he is already becoming a disciple. I’m anxious to see how he will fare in the second season coming soon. I foresee that it will be a while before the other disciples accept him, just as I imagined in my story.

The producers offer the first eight episodes free at www.thechosen.com. It is free, because thousands of people (including my husband and me) have contributed money or bought the DVD or other products in order to get the story into as many homes as possible. I believe this is going to be an amazing tool for leading people into the Kingdom, just as I pray my book will be. 

Have any of you seen it?

Joyce

Matthew – Other Clues

    Eyes to See

   Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

As I continued looking for other clues into the life of Matthew for my, third book, Eyes to See, I looked in his gospel for passages that were unique to him.

In many of our Bibles, you see more than one heading in the chapters that describes what follows. In my Bible, other references are also given if that passage is found in one of the other gospels. If none are given, the information is found only in that gospel.

For instance, in Matthew, chapters 5 – 7, eleven sections were written only by Matthew. He consolidated several teachings of Jesus into these three chapters in what we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount.

In chapter 13, he grouped six parables together. Three are only found in Matthew. In other places, he listed healings in a group. Matthew seemed to be organized, perhaps a list maker. That would fit well with a tax collector who kept tract of numbers.

I see Matthew as a detailed person, attentive to people, perhaps good with selling, a numbers man. So I developed Matthew’s bent toward these things as a child and a young man. Of course we always find an antagonist in a story and logically Matthew had one that effected his turn toward becoming a tax collector.

However, tax collecting would have been the last thing on Matthew’s list of ambitions. Tax collectors worked for the Roman government, and anyone who gave themselves to the brutal, domineering Romans would be despised by his fellow Jews. They were seen as traitors.

When Matthew repented and followed Jesus, leaving his tax collecting behind, the bitter stigma of being a tax man may have lingered in the minds of his fellow disciples. Perhaps Jesus’ reminder to “judge not, lest you be judged” would fit the disciples as well.

Ah, but I can’t give you all the story, can I? You will have to get the book!

One other clue, unique to Matthew, is found in Matthew 27:62-66 where the religious leaders went to Pilate.

“Sir, while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure. Otherwise, his disciples may steal the body and claim he has been raised from the dead. Matthew 27:63-64

Along with that clue (again unique to Matthew’s Gospel) the guards later found the tomb empty. The soldiers were afraid the centurion would have their heads, so they reported this to the religious leaders who made a clandestine arrangement with the soldiers and gave them money, assuring them that they would be protected if they would tell this story:

“You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'” Matthew 28:13

How was Matthew privy to this information? Perhaps he had had a friendship with a Roman soldier during his tax days. You can bet that will be in the story, too!

Some final thoughts next week.

~ Joyce ~

Matthew and His Dinner Guests

 

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week, we saw that Matthew responded to the call of Jesus to, “Follow me.” 

I remember the way a movie director set this scene in a made-for-TV movie last year. The Matthew character was sitting at his booth. His eyes grew wide as Jesus approached him. Jesus stood before him for a moment and Matthew’s eyes began to water. When Jesus reached out his hand to him, Matthew’s eyes were brimming over in tears.

It was a stirring moment.  In that tear-filled moment you could feel Matthew’s conviction of sin and the glorious realization that the Redeemer was doing His cleansing work in Matthew’s heart. It was a beautiful scene. I loved it!

No doubt a bit of time elapses as Matthew (perhaps still called Levi) spends time with Jesus and the other disciples. Mark and Luke use his given name, Levi, when they tell his story. Levi means “a person pledged for a debt or vow.” It also means “a wild cow.” 

When Matthew tells his story, he uses “Matthew” which means “gift of Yahweh.” I see why he preferred “Matthew.” I’d rather be a gift of Yahweh than a wild cow, wouldn’t you?

As with any believer, Matthew is anxious to share his good news. He is so convinced that Jesus can melt the hearts of his friends that he decides to invite them to dinner, with Jesus as the main guest. Wouldn’t you love to know if Matthew had forewarned his friends about who was coming to dinner?

Now let’s reflect back to who his “friends” might be. Certainly not the upright citizens of the community. No, a despised tax collector would only be able to attract other rejected members of the town. Consider who are the despised ones—maybe prostitutes, uncaught thieves, drunkards, promiscuous young men—anyone who obviously and publicly did not follow the rules. “Sinners,” the Scripture says. 

Why, you might ask, would Jesus want to be with a house full of sinners? In his own words,

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”Matthew 9:12

I am reminded that after our son had “wandered in the wilderness” for a time, he turned his life over to Jesus. Things were going well. He buried himself in the Scripture, reading chapters at a time. He even asked if we could have a Bible study together as a family.

Then one day he said he was going to a party with his friends. Like Matthew, the only friends he had were “sinners.” My heart sank. But that night when he came home (at a reasonable hour), he excitedly shared how he had sat with a friend over in the corner and began to tell the friend all that had happened to him. In essence, he had gone to the party to witness!

Next week we will look at the dinner party through the eyes of the Pharisees and the disciples.

~ Joyce ~

Matthew, the Tax Collector

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Back to the research. 

It seems there were two kinds of tax collectors in Jesus’ day. One collected regular dues, kind of like property tax and income tax. It created a heavy burden on the poor who were already barely making it, especially in the area of Galilee where Jesus lived and taught so much.

The other kind of tax collector served more like a customs collector on imports and exports. Matthew would have been one of these. He lived in Capernaum which had a main road running through it. That put Capernaum smack dab in the middle of a major east/west trade route.

Matthew sat at the tax collector’s booth collecting from the travelers who passed through on their way to or from such places as Egypt, Phoenicia, Cyprus, or Assyria.

These caravans could have transported everything from wood, fish, or slaves, to fabrics, spices, or grains.

As they passed Matthew’s booth, he could put a charge on every pack animal, wheel, axle, or pedestrian. He taxed bales of goods, packages, even private letters. Bad as that was to the traveler, all the unpacking  and packing back up proved to be equally aggravating.

The burning question for me is, what would cause Matthew to get into this business as a detested tax collector?

Matthew was apparently educated since he had to deal in monies from different countries and able to “do the math” that would be needed. When we look ahead to his life after his conversion, we see that he was a writer and well versed in Old Testament Scripture as he quoted it twelve times in his Gospel. Often, he would say, “This was to fulfill the Scripture that said…”

So why would this religious, well-educated young man be drawn into a profession so profane?

Equally puzzling is why he would even consider following Jesus, given his present situation. His life was anything but honest, moral, humble, or upright. He didn’t understand meekness and mercy, much less being pure in heart or  peacemaking.

As he sat there at his booth by the sea, I can imagine that he may have heard Jesus’ teaching. He could have seen Jesus heal. Perhaps someone he knew was healed.

Was he growing weary of this life of fussing with travelers and being friends only with prostitutes, drunkards, robbers, and other sinners? Did he long to return to the synagogue, from which he had been banned, to study and pray? Was he convicted of his sin? Did Jesus’ words and gentle spirit penetrate his heart?

While others passed by and looked at Matthew with disdain, or ignored him as though he didn’t exist, was he touched by the fact that Jesus looked deep into his soul?

Whatever it was, the day came when Jesus walked directly to Matthew’s booth.

“Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9 

What did Jesus see in Matthew that the townspeople could not see? The same worth that God sees in us despite our failures and doubts.

Oh, but there’s more to Matthew’s story. Next week!

~ Joyce ~ 

 

Tax Collectors – Love ‘Em or Reject ‘Em?

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Amazing! You’re back with me. 

We established last week that the Jews looked upon tax collectors with disdain.  They saw them as traitors. Tax collectors were considered defiled by their constant contact with the heathen. They were not allowed in the synagogues or the Temple, nor could they testify in a court of law.

A tax collector (or “publican” as they were often called) disgraced his whole family. You were warned never to keep promises with him.

That’s why Jesus knows they will understand when he gives instructions about the process of reconciling with a brother who sins against you.

Step one—go to your brother and try to work it out between the two of you. Didn’t work?

Step two—take one or two others with you to talk and serve as witnesses. Still doesn’t work?

Step three—take the matter to the church.

“…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18:17

Once again, Jesus lumps the tax collector with the pagan, the non-believer. The actions of both are not acceptable.

Yet as despicable as tax collectors are, Jesus has a heart for them.

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2

The Pharisees would only give reputable people the honor of being invited into their homes. Certainly not this kind of riffraff!

Jesus teaches them through a parable:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Luke 15:3-4

Jesus goes on to explain about the care of the shepherd and the joy of finding that lost sheep. Then he tells about a woman:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? Luke 15:8

Jesus compares the joy of finding these things to the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. In Luke, he says :

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

He recognizes that the tax collector is lost in his sin, but that’s exactly the kind of person Jesus came to help.

What about us? Can you picture a person who you would consider riffraff? Someone you would never invite to your home? Is there a way to reach out to that person?

If we are to  follow our Good Shepherd, that would include doing what He did. Our task then? Bring the lost to Him!

~ Joyce ~

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

header image blog

Matthew the tax collector [last two posts] sets up his booth beside the Sea of Galilee ready to collect. But on one particularly day, the teacher he has been watching comes face to face with him. “Follow me,” Jesus says. “Leave the weight of your sin. Hear the God’s call to repentance. Accept the love that you have never experienced.” And Matthew (hated Matthew) gets up, leaves his booth, and follows Jesus.

A question left unanswered from last week – Is his name Matthew or is he Levi son of Alphaeus? Probably both. (Remember Simon—Peter. Saul—Paul.) The word “Levi” means a wild cow or a person pledged for a debt or vow. Whereas, Matthew means gift of the Lord. I think I’d rather be a gift than a wild cow. No wonder he told his story with the name “Matthew.”

What happens next is very typical of new believers. Matthew is so excited about his new-found redemption and the load that has been lifted from his shoulders that he wants to share it. What better way than to have all his friends over for a dinner. In Matthew’s case, he gets to invite Jesus himself to the party!

Now who is on the guest list? Matthew’s friends, of course. Who are Matthew’s friends? Well, certainly not the upstanding members of Capernaum society. No, a tax collector’s friends will be other tax collectors, prostitutes maybe, and other shady characters of the community.

This reminds me of the years we spent struggling with our son. He had wandered in the wilderness making one bad choice after another. But one glorious day, he came to us to share how the Lord had completely turned him around. We were elated and relieved.

A few days later our son’s friends were having a party and he decided to go. Like Matthew, these were the only friends he had—the party crowd. My heart sank. But when he came home, he was so excited. He told us, “I got one of my friends over in the corner and began to tell him what had happened to me.” Instead of joining in, he was witnessing!

Here’s how it went for Matthew…

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. Matthew 9:10

Even Jesus’ disciples bought into this conversion and participated in the dinner along with the “sinners.” What a witnessing opportunity for them. BUT…

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Matthew 9:11

I wish we could hear their responses. Perhaps Jesus’ followers were still trying to figure everything out themselves—a perfect teaching moment for Jesus. He speaks up.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners [to repentance].” Matthew 9:12, 13b

This is the same way Mark and Luke record the incident, but Matthew adds one other line.

“But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13a

The Pharisees knew all about sacrifices in the Temple. It was their duty. It was the law. It was their routine. Not so with “mercy.” In some ways this was a foreign word to them in terms of their experience. I’m wondering if, early on, maybe even the other apostles had a period of adjustment to Matthew. Was he worthy of being one of their special group of twelve?

Mercy. Perhaps we all need more lessons. We’re bombarded with being “tolerant” these days, but I believe showing mercy is quite different. Think on these things

Next week, a story from my childhood for Father’s Day.

 ~ Joyce ~

 

A Tax Collector – Yikes!

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

No one cares for tax collectors whether they’re Roman or American. But at least in America, our tax dollars grant us fire and police protection, roadway updates, etc. Not so with Roman taxes in Jesus’ day. The only thing the Jews of Israel received were more Roman soldiers marching about to intimidate.

Rome required a certain amount of tax; anything above that became profit for the collector. To add insult to injury, Rome usually hired Jews to be the tax collectors. Two strikes against the TC. Fellow Jews looked upon them as traitors.  Our friend Matthew [from last week’s post] may have been wealthy,  but as a tax collector, he was detested.

I imagine him as he sits at his collecting table by the Sea of Galilee. He draws great income there along the east/west trading route, not to mention collecting revenue from those coming in by sea. No doubt the locals loathe his presence in their town of Capernaum.

However, even though the townspeople ignore him and he likewise avoids them, he can’t help but notice Jesus. Matthew hears Jesus’ teaching as he passes by the booth. He watches Jesus launch out in a boat and turn back to the crowd in order to  preach to them as they line the shore. Jesus’ attitude isn’t belligerent, degrading, or bitter like most of the people in town. His teachings speak of love and forgiveness. Besides the teaching, perhaps Matthew also sees, with his own eyes, a lame man healed by the miracle worker.

On one special day, Matthew sees Jesus approaching his booth. Jesus comes straight to Matthew and looks him in the eye.  Well, here’s the way Matthew tells the story:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matt. 9:9

That’s it. Zip, zip. “Follow me” and he got up and followed him. This begs a back story. I gave you a little bit, but there has to be more. This is one of those many times in Scripture where I wish we had more details. Then I remember what John said:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. John 21:25

Still, the Lord has given me a passion to stop, consider the people Jesus touched along the way, and to wonder how his touch upon their lives changed them from what they were to what he could make of them. What was the rest of their story?

Let’s look at this same account from Mark’s gospel:

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. Mark 2:13-14

Say what? Is he Matthew or is he Levi? Luke also calls him “Levi.” And did you notice he is son of Alphaeus? Do you remember last week in the list of apostles, one was named James son of Alphaeus? Do we have another pair of brothers here? Are the other disciples going to accept this tax collector? What will the people say? The plot thickens!

They’re certainly not going to be happy with what Matthew and Jesus do next. To be continued…

~ Joyce ~