Our group was growing, there were always people coming and going but there was a core of us who always seemed to be there; myself and Andrew, John and James, Nathaniel and Philip and the Zealot. That changed one afternoon as we were returning from the shores of Galilee where Jesus had been teaching.
As we got closer to town, we saw that a tax collector had set up a booth just outside the market. I heard that in some areas Roman soldiers went house to house to collect what the Empire demanded. but in Judea taxes they collected their due in a more civilized manner. If there was anything civilized about what they collected. There were taxes on everything, including the ground we lived on, and we all paid it, there was no choice. The only ones who didn’t pay were the beggars who had nothing to start with.
Normally, people avoided the tax booths, and those who worked them, no use in inviting questions from the tax man about what you had and hadn’t paid.
But no, not today, today Jesus made a beeline for the booth and just stood there. What did he think he was doing? Were there taxes he needed to pay?
After what seemed like forever, the tax collector realized that he had company and looked up.
“Yes?” the man asked, “What do you owe?”
“I owe nothing to Caesar,” Jesus replied, “But you’ve been waiting for this moment, come follow me and be my disciple.”
What? This man was a tax collector, he collaborated with the Romans. What he did was akin to robbery. The man had no compassion and no loyalty; he had sold himself to the highest bidder and Jesus was inviting him to join us?
I don’t know what Jesus was hoping to accomplish, but there was no way that this man would give up his position with Rome to follow Jesus.
And then he did, just like that. He put down his pen, rolled up his scroll and stood up.
“Lord, I’ve heard you teach, I’ve seen you heal people, but never once could I imagine that you would call me.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Jesus replied, “Guys this is Matthew, maybe you know his dad, Alphaeus. Matthew, how’s your dad doing?”
“Never, not in this life will I ever hang out with the likes of him.” The words came from Simon, “Do you know who he is? Do you know what he does?”
Matthew grinned, “Settle down Squinty, he knew my name and my father’s name, I’m pretty sure he knows what I do. The question is, do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Do you know what I do?”
“Of course I know, everybody knows what you do. You rob us blind for the Romans.”
“No, I collect the taxes that Rome has decided that we will pay. Taxes that pay for our roads and pay for the soldiers that keep us safe from the Barbarians who live in the northern countries.”
“Sure, and taxes that pay for those same soldiers to occupy our land, and taxes that pay for the crosses used by Rome to crucify your fellow Jews on.”
“if I didn’t do it, somebody else would.”
“And that makes it right?”
“Hey, I just quit, what more do you want?”
Jesus interrupted, “As much fun as it is to watch you two, we need to get going. Simon, Matthew’s one of the good guys. He doesn’t gouge people, he only collects what they require, and he shows compassion whenever he can.”
“And he works for Caesar,” Simon spit the words out like they were leaving a nasty taste in his mouth.
“Actually, he worked for Caesar, now he will follow me, just like you. If being perfect is what I required for a man to follow me, It would be a lonely journey I’m afraid.”
“Well, he can take my place.” Simon spun around and stormed off.
Wow, that was awkward.
“I didn’t want to start anything,” Matthew said, “Maybe it would be better if I followed from a distance.”
can really follow me from a distance, Matthew, and don’t worry about Simon
he’ll be back. He just needs to calm down.”