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 ~