Jesus responded, “I am not interested in calling
pious people to follow me because they just don’t get it and never will; not really.
My focus is on those who freely acknowledge that they are sinners.”
Your point of view might dictate what you chose to call it. Historians will one day refer to my humble stand as
a tax collector’s booth. Very well, but many would call it a toll booth or a custom house. In any case it wasn’t
uncommon for Jews like me to work for the Roman establishment. In spite of a certain amount of intimidation
always hovering over us we could be relied upon to get the job done right. My stand was three sided with an
overhang to protect me from inclement conditions. It was near enough to the shore so that I could catch the
passengers coming and going and collect their tolls whether by coin or by receipt from their having already
settled their accounts in advance. Sometimes it was a little complicated with travelers changing ships and
hopping from country to country, but I kept my own records and could figure anything out. It wasn’t often I
looked into smiling faces but that was part of the job. That said, twenty years later when I wrote my account
which became the Gospel of Matthew, I was able to include details omitted by the other reporters; namely
Mark, Luke, and John.
The big question is why? People will always want to know why. They’ll want to know why on earth a
successful businessman, a survivor like me, got up from my seat and came out from behind my counter and
simply walked away. Just like that. No fanfare, no anything. Following a complete stranger, moreover
putting trust in this stranger and giving up everything I had put a lifetime of sweat equity into, and I just
walked away and abandoned it all. Everyone has had visions of that - you know, turning down that road you
always wanted to explore for no reason other than the challenge of it, but most people don’t dare to do it.
Okay, for my part I knew my qualifications. I was the accountant supreme. I could read people. I had a sixth
sense and knew when citizens were trying to pull one over on me. But Jesus. How could he have possibly
known what was in my resume? Literally, we had just met two minutes before. That was many years ago and
it’s as clear in my mind as if he were standing here right now saying “I want you to follow me.” Talk about
being drawn in. I couldn’t even feel my feet. It was like walking on a cloud. All I knew was that I would follow
him anywhere. Nothing else mattered.
The next few days were the most confusing yet the most exhilarating I’d ever experienced. My past
preoccupation with making money had become just that - the past. It suddenly seemed so meaningless.
What had I been thinking all those years? Talk about misplaced values. In just a few days with Jesus I had
seen miracles beyond anything I had ever dreamed possible, comprehended truths I’d never even
contemplated, and I had so much energy I swear I was a teenager again. And you can imagine my
astonishment, then, when he agreed to come to my going away party; my very own celebrity roast
you might say.
That was quite the afternoon. The only friends I had were co-workers, mostly Jews but not all, who were tax
collectors also. We stuck together by default because people just didn’t like us in general. I didn’t think we
were all that abrasive. Well - you know, not unless the customers were argumentative and then we made
them sorry they opened their mouths in the first place. Had I known that the dinner party would be so well
attended by my friends and their wives I would have rented a hall. We were pretty packed in but that seemed
to make it all the livelier, and it was good that I had back-up sacks of wine because my friends went through a
lot of it. I didn’t care at that point. The value of material things had suddenly escaped me. We started the
festivities early and it was still daylight out, but barely, when the last of my inebriated guests staggered away.
Jesus was amazing. In spite of the unruliness of the crowd, Jesus was like the wise teacher among us.
People hung on his every word. I could see the wheels turning in their heads. New concepts. More
importantly, new hope. Many of them were showing the first signs of the conversion experience similar to
what I had just gone through those past few days. He never lost his cool even when some of the questions
bordered on accusatory in nature. But the real test was when he walked outside.
Standing there in their pompous piety were the right wingers. Again. This was becoming a nuisance. The
self-appointed ‘morality police’ were all set to fire devious questions at Jesus. For once I knew something
they didn’t. I knew he could handle them. He had just proved that a thousand times in as many minutes.
This time it was even more petty than usual. Pathetic, ludicrous, even hypocritical, but nevertheless Jesus
addressed them in his cool even-tempered manner. There was only one thing going through my mind. What
was it about him to cause him to show such compassion even when he knew they were trying to trap and
belittle him? The patience, the wisdom. And you wonder why I just got up and followed? Here’s why.
Here’s when the game changed forever.
They asked him why he was partying with “sinners,” aka tax collectors. Like they were letter-of-the-law
judges demanding answers. Like tradition outweighed compassion. I loved his response. I think he got it
right. He told them he didn’t feel the need to spend time with them because they already had their minds
made up and that most of them wouldn’t budge one iota. They were bigots of the first degree and were
blinded to God’s perspective. They never understood that God created all people equally, diversely but
equally, nor did they want to. Jesus also indicated that he’d be spending a lot of time with the so-called
“sinners,” so they could either get over it or continue complaining and criticizing right up to their dying days.
They chose the latter.
PS - they still do.
Read my book. You’ll like it, Matthew