Last week I wrote a post about remembering who the real enemy is. I’ve been thinking about that concept so much lately…about how we bicker and fight amongst ourselves so often that we end up doing the enemy’s work for him.
The other day, though, I was reading through my Bible and I came across a passage that I’m sure I’ve read a hundred times before, but this time it touched me differently. Matthew 9:9 “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.”
So, let’s set the scene here…Jesus has just finished a long stint of healing people. He has healed people with leprosy, paralytics, the possessed, and calms a storm. Then we get a little blurb about Jesus running into Matthew and asking him to follow him. He goes on to eat dinner at Matthew’s house with other tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees are, once again, irritated that Jesus isn’t behaving the way they’d like. Jesus, per the norm, puts them in their place and tells them that the sick are the ones who need the doctors, not the ones who are well.
Now, if the Pharisees had been honest with themselves, they would have seen themselves as sick and needing a doctor too…But we will save that for another day.
Jesus calls Matthew.
I’ve read it a hundred times. I’ve passed by this little bit of the Bible so many times and, for whatever reason, it hit me like a ton of bricks this week.
Matthew. The tax collector. I mean, I’ve heard before that the tax collectors were considered the scum of the earth. They were usually cheating people out of their money and so on and so forth. I mean, no one likes the guy who works for the IRS, right? But it occurred to me this week to look into who Matthew was working for. According to Wikipedia (because it is the ultimate source for all things reliable…), Matthew would have been collecting taxes for Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas would have been the son of Herod the Great (the one who lied to the wise men and killed all the boys 2 and under in Bethlehem…yeah, the nut job). Herod Antipas was the one whom Pilate sent Jesus to when he didn’t want blood on his hands. Herod was a tetrarch (which is the name given to some who ruled Roman provinces). Matthew was a Jewish guy working for the Romans…the enemy. And Jesus called him.
Think about that for a second. Let that sink in.
Matthew. A Jewish man. Working for the Romans. And Jesus calls him.
That just blows my mind. It already amazed me that Jesus would call the tax collectors because I’ve heard so much nasty stuff about them…but then when I really sat to think about it, it was so much more than people cheating other people out of money.
Put yourself in the picture. Let’s say some big strong group comes in and takes over the country. They’re taking our money, ruining our land, killing our people…And they offer you a job to collect taxes for them. Do you sell out? Or do you decide to do something else like become a carpenter or fisherman? Matthew was a sell out. He was a Jew working for the Romans…and he made money off of it. He’s like the guy in all the movies that you just hope dies. He’s like Saruman working for Sauron. He’s like Snape when you think he’s working for Voldemort. He’s the guy you would think should be a good guy but isn’t! He’s a traitor!
And I am just like Matthew.
I have worked for the enemy. I have called myself a “Christian” so many times only to go off and do the enemy’s work for him. I have done what was easy and comfortable. I have been one thing on the outside and another on the inside. I have sat and preached one thing…and gone off and done the opposite. When everything is stripped away, I am totally the sinner who does not “deserve” to be called by Christ. I don’t deserve for Jesus to ask me to follow him. I never have. But He did anyway. Isn’t that amazing? He did anyway! It had nothing to do with me. He called me, in my sin…even though I was a sell out…
Being a “good Christian girl” was pretty easy in high school. There were lots of people around watching. I had church twice a week, I read my Bible and journaled my prayers every night…and I had a reputation to uphold. I had incentives to be “good.” Then college came. Rome invaded. I had to learn to fend for myself. I still called myself a Christian, but it was a whole lot easier to get on by without doing all the Christian stuff for a while. After all, I had no one to impress, I wanted to fit in…changing sides was just easier. And that’s where Jesus called me. In my darkest, deepest, most lonely time in my life is when Jesus came to me and made himself real to me. When everything else fell apart, He remained.
See, in high school I was more like the Pharisees. I was a whitewashed tomb. I thought I had it all together. I knew the difference between right and wrong and worked really hard to do all of those things. I was a “good kid.” I got good grades and didn’t get into trouble in school. I worked hard and did what I was supposed to do. And I was such a brat in my heart.
I very distinctly remember one day at the beginning of my senior year sitting in my car (after doing an outreach of all things) and being angry with God because everything seemed to be going so well for a friend of mine and nothing was going my way. This friend of mine had done everything wrong. I had done everything right. She ended up getting everything she wanted…and I didn’t. It wasn’t fair! Sure, she was a Christian and she was remorseful about the stuff she had done, but still! I hadn’t done those things! I had to work hard to not do what she had done and lost friends and boyfriends for putting my foot down about my beliefs and standards. And here she is, the girl who did everything I said I’d never do…and she’s happy.
Man, it’s so embarrassing even admitting I felt that way. I was such a snot. I was a spoiled little Pharisee. I was just like the Pharisees in Matthew’s story. I sat there and said, “What is Jesus doing with her? She’s a sinner.” Had I really known my own heart I would have seen how depraved I was. I was arrogant and unteachable…I was so wrong.
It wasn’t until I could finally see the sickness inside myself that I realized I really needed the Great Physician.
So in some ways I’m like Matthew. I’m the Christian girl on the outside who has taken the easy route and works for the enemy. I’m doing the devil’s work and have switched sides. And in others I’m like the Pharisee. I’m all good on the outside…doing everything I’m supposed to be doing but missing all the heart and soul. I am so glad that Jesus came for people like me. He came for the lost and broken. He came for the sick. He didn’t come to make us feel guilty, but to show us truth, love, grace and to give us a hope. It is his kindness that leads to repentance. My prayer is that I never forget my need for Jesus. Not so I can sit and mourn my sinful soul for all of eternity, but so I can truly see the love of God and his grace that pours out.