“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.”
Picturing Matthew sitting alone at his tax booth reminds me of that story and the idea of actions having consequences. Most humans despise tax-collectors, but Jews in the first century had a special hatred for them. In their minds, publicans were co-conspirators with pagan Rome. 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 he 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? You feel stuck in a life seemingly predetermined by those choices? Need a new start? Break that string of bad decisions with one good one. Jesus says: “Follow me.”
Join us Sunday for my sermon series “The Twelve” – we’ll be talking about Matthew the Tax-Collector.