Updated: Feb 17, 2021
The Rev. David Collins
Maitland Presbyterian Church
Scripture: Matthew 9:9–13
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Over these past 11 months, there have been a number of shortages. We started out with a shortage on Toilet Paper, remember that one? It’s weird that that one came before the shortage of hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes, isn’t it? But then all PPE was in short supply.
But do you know what’s never been in short supply?
People to look down on.
There has never been a shortage of contempt. Any conversation you have, if there’s a lull, all you need to do to reinvigorate it is bring up someone you know you both dislike. This is the one thing that unites us all as a nation! No matter what side you’re on, you get to feel better about yourself by talking about the other. We might hate each other, but we love talking about each other.
There’s just something about us that loves that feeling. It’s an itch we love to scratch, and everyone knows it. The channels we watch want to keep us watching, so they keep scratching it. And it works.
As a species, we just can’t get enough. This is nothing new. The quickest way to feel better about yourself is to feel better than someone else. Always has been.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We don’t have to be that way.
You don’t have to be that way.
In fact, that’s one of the biggest things that Jesus came here to show us. He taught it, but more than anything, he lived it. He modeled it. He built his ministry around it.
Today we’re starting a new sermon series called Follow, and today we’re going to start by looking at one person in particular that Jesus called to follow him, and what that says about Jesus, and what it says about all of his followers, including you and me.
Let’s take a look.
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth.” (Matthew 9:9)
Jewish tax collectors were the scum of the earth at the time. We often hear them referred to as publicans, which loosely translates as “tax-farmer”. The Romans imposed an income tax as well as a land tax on the Jews.
They paid 10% on their property tax and 20% of their wine and fruit. And then, there were tolls on roads, gates, bridges, boundaries between districts, harbor taxes, town taxes, import and export taxes. So many taxes.
But to keep their costs lower, the Romans “farmed out” the tax collecting to the lowest bidder among whoever could get the job done. It was like one of the first Multi-Level Marketing schemes. But instead of hearing about it from that girl you haven’t talked to since high school, Jewish tax-collectors collaborated with the foreigners who had conquered their homeland.
And then they could subcontract out the collection of these taxes to others. I don’t know if they all referred to themselves as business owners or not, but you get the gist. Imagine instead of just trying to sell you vitamin supplements until you block them, they could show up at your door and have you arrested if you didn’t pay them?
Taxes were a constant reminder of Roman oppression and occupation, and those who collected them were much more than just looked down on. They were hated.
You’d hate them too.
So Jesus finds Matthew sitting in the Roman tax collection booth on the highway of this port city legally stealing from his own people. Jesus had already started to call people to follow him at this point. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were already there. Others were following too, no doubt.
They didn’t know everything about Jesus yet. They were just happy to have been invited to follow a rabbi. So they’re seeing all of this in real time. When the current disciples see Matthew, they see a man they may have had history with. Matthew may have collected tax from them before or someone they knew. And they hated him.
You see, Matthew was one of those subjects you could always fall back on to liven up a flagging conversation. “Tax collectors, amirite?” “Oh don’t get me started.” Just looking at him, Jesus’ other followers felt a boost to their ego. Just looking at him, they got to scratch that itch of contempt.
And then they got to watch their rabbi, their leader, walk right up to him. “Oh man, look! What is he going to do? What is Jesus going to say?”
And Jesus walks up to him and says . . .“Follow me.”
Not “How could you?” But follow me
Not “You should be ashamed.” But follow me.
Not “I’ll pray for you.” But follow me.
Jesus also didn’t tell him everything that it would mean for him first. He didn’t put any conditions on his offer at all!
Jesus didn’t tell him, “If you are willing to quit this job, and apologize, you can follow me.”
He didn’t say, “You can follow me, but know that I’m going to require lots of changes in your life if you do.”