“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.” (Matthew 9:9, NIV)
A little boy goes to the grocery store and asks the clerk for a box of detergent: “I need it to wash my dog.” “Well son, that’s pretty strong stuff for washing a little dog.” “Then that’s what I want, ‘cuz he’s mighty dirty,” the boy responds.
The next week the boy is back in the store. The clerk sees him: “How’s your dog?” “Oh, he died, mister.” The clerk replies, “I’m sorry to hear that. The detergent must have been too strong.” “I don’t think the detergent hurt him,” the boy answered. “I think it was the rinse cycle that got him.”
When I read Matthew 9:9 and picture Matthew sitting alone at his tax booth, it reminds me of that story and the idea of actions having consequences.
Most of us despise paying taxes. But we take solace in the idea that in our country some good things are done with our tax money and that the system is relatively fair. But imagine a tax system where nothing good was done and the system was 100 percent corrupt. That was the Roman tax system in first century Israel.
The Jewish people had a special hatred for tax-collectors. In their minds, publicans were Jewish co-conspirators with the pagan Roman occupiers of their state (read: traitors). Add to that the fact that most tax-collectors were as crooked as a dog’s hind leg and you will understand the level of Matthew’s ostracism. He was alone in the world.
How did he get to this point in life? We don’t know, but I think we can safely assume that as a young boy Matthew never set out to become a hated, traitorous thief. Like most things, it probably started with one bad decision…that led to another…then another. The thing about decisions is that each one opens up options in life. Bad decisions often leave us only with bad options and the best we can do is try to discover the least painful of the lot. That’s how I think Matthew felt as he stole money from his neighbors. He was stuck.
And then Jesus showed up. Finally, a good choice. Finally, a right decision.
Have you made bad decisions in your past? Do you feel stuck in a life seemingly pre-determined by those choices? Need a new start? Break that string of bad decisions with one good one. Jesus says: “Follow me.”
I’ll see you in church!
Jim Mann, Ph.D. pastors New Life Church at Robson Ranch. This interdenominational church meets at the Robson Clubhouse on Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. Visit New Life’s website www.NewLifeDenton.org for more information.