Matthew 9: “Matthew the Publican”

Have you ever thought about the type of people Jesus called to be a part of his Merry Band? Reading the beginning of Chapter 9 reminded me, not of the actions of Jesus, but rather the group of people he surrounded himself with.

Christ deliberately passed over the social and educational elite! He passed over the powerful and influential, and looked specifically for the people from the bottom of societies food chain. This shouldn’t really be a surprise to us, he said in Psalm 8 that He ordained strength from the mouths of nursing infants. He told us in Isaiah 26 that He brings down those who dwell on high and brings it to the feet of the poor and needy. He exclaimed in Zephaniah and Ezekiel that it was the humble who will be exalted!

Knowing this, why would we be surprised when Jesus looks at a tax collector, sitting in his booth, and saying, “Follow me and be my disciple (9:9).” And was Matthews response? He got up and followed him (9:9)That’s it! Seriously, that’s really it, and that’s coming from the guy who wrote the story! No questions, no debate, no argument, simply, a Rabbi has asked me to follow up, I’ll go.

Matthew the Publican

Just like the other disciples, there is very little we know about Matthew. We know that he had a Jewish name. Luke refers to him as Levi and Mark calls him “Levi the son of Alphaeus.” Because of Matthews position as a tax-collector we’re pretty confident in understanding that he was probably the most notorious sinner in the whole bunch.

What little we do know about Matthew we know that he was a humble man, someone who kept to himself, didn’t make a show of things, fades into the background every chance he gets. By today’s standards, while Peter would have been the extrovert of the group, Matthew no doubt would be the introvert. I mean, he only mentions himself by name twice in his own Gospel.

But the thing he had against him was he was a tax-collector, better known as a “Publican.” They were the most hated people in all of Jewish society. Jewish citizens had a better relationship with the Roman soldiers than they did with the publicans.

You see, Publicans were men who had bought tax franchises from the Roman emperor and then extorted money from the people of Israel to feed the Roman coffers and to pad their own pockets! They often traveled with hit men to strong-arm people into paying up. Matthew would have been a vile, despicable dead beat!

You have to know: It would have been extremely rare to have a publican, like Matthew, sitting along side Simon the Publican Hunter in the same group of disciples.

Jesus Meets Matthew’s Friends

So it seems like as soon as Matthew is called by Jesus he does what all of us should do…tell someone! But here’s the cool thing! Matthew doesn’t just tell someone, he tells all of his other deadbeat, low life, scum of society friends to join him at his house. And why? Because he had a guest of honor he wanted them to meet…Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi from Galilee.

Because of Matthew’s position of being a social outcast, he wouldn’t have had culturally acceptable friends. This meant that when Matthew called his friends together they would have been a who’s-who of prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.

You have to know that when Jesus called Matthew he wasn’t just calling a person, he was calling a whole community to follow him. The statement might have sounded like, “Follow Me,” but what He was really saying was, “I want you, I believe in you, I know that society says you’re an outcast and a liability, but I don’t see that, I see a child of God. No matter where you’ve been, where you are, or where you’re going, I want you to walk with me on this journey.”

Jesus needs all types of people to reach all types of people. Go today and be that type of person.