I was in a training seminar for auditors and accountants today. Yes, 350 auditors and accountants in the same room. I’m surprised we were able to walk out of there under our own power. It’s a wonder any of us were not brain dead.
Actually it was pretty interesting. One of the presentations was on ethics for accountants. The presenter showed a chart from a study someone had done ranking various professions based on how much integrity you’d expect someone in that profession to have. For instance, nurses ranked the highest—everybody trusts nurses. Auditors and accountants, well, we didn’t fare as well. We were the second lowest right above lawyers.
Things were not that different in Christ’s day. I mean, sure, they had not invented double entry bookkeeping but they had men who collected money for the government. Matthew, the author of this gospel was one such man. We read about his call in this single verse of his gospel but as we read this verse, we need to remember some things, bearing in mind that he was a tax collector.
His people hated him—the Jews that is. Tax collectors worked for the Romans and there are no words for how badly the Jews hated being under Roman occupation. The Romans would sell the rights to collect taxes to people, like Matthew. So, the tax collectors were seen as sell outs. They were ranked right down there with harlots, so Matthew and I have something in common since I’m in a profession that is ranked right above lawyers (Harlots/lawyers, is there a real difference there?). He was a societal outcast. They hated him for another reason as well—tax collectors were crooks. They were given an amount that they had to collect in taxes but they were not told what the maximum they could collect was. Therefore, standard practice was for them to collect “a little something extra” for themselves. So, they sold out their people by helping the Romans and they were crooks who stole from their countrymen by collecting more than was required in taxes. In short, most people liked them about as much as they do any auditor.
Matthew, therefore, was probably not part of religious life in his community. Likely as not, he didn’t have friends who were not engaged in his occupation. The very idea that this governmental accountant could be called into the service of Christ would have been laughable to anyone from “polite society”. He wasn’t just from the wrong side of the tracks—he wasn’t even on the same continent. He had made his choice and there is nothing he could do that would make him clean. He was a sinner, hopeless, helpless, and completely doomed.
And then Jesus enters the picture. I have to imagine as Matthew wrote this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he had a tear in his eye. There’s no tricky Greek verb tenses going on here. No difficult vocabulary to wrestle with. Here was Jesus, soverignly reaching out to Matthew for no reason other than it pleased Him to do so. He knew who Matthew was. He knew what he had done. In spite of all that, He extended the call “Follow me”. And Matthew did so.
As we reflect on this verse and Matthew’s call, let us remember our own call. I remember how God, when I was in 7th grade on a Thursday afternoon in September, convicted me of my sin by the Holy Spirit and called me to Himself. I remember when I was in 8th grade, a little snot nosed punk, I heard His call and wasn’t sure what He was calling me to do. I remember Him calling me back to repentance after I had spent all of my college, no, wasted all of my time in college living as though I didn’t know Him. I remember him allowing me to serve as a minister of music and a pastor. He called me in spite of everything I am knowing full well exactly what I was. Remembering our call should cause us to burst out in praise to our kind, gracious heavenly Father who loved us in spite of our sin. Praise His holy name.