Thursday, January 30, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- The Call of Matthew

This is part 4 of a series covering the choosing and training of the 12 disciples. To get to the beginning, click here.

Put together, the four gospels provide good details of the calling of Simon Peter along with Andrew, James, and John. Although He calls, and then choose, eight other men to be His disciples, the only other member of the twelve for which we have any details is Matthew, or Levi as he is also called. This is made more interesting by the fact that all three of the synoptic gospels record the event. This attests to its importance. Here is Luke’s account:

And after that He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi, sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. (Luke 5:27-29, The Net Bible)

Why is Matthew’s call recorded? I believe that it is because his background was a bit tainted. Each account tells us that he was a tax gatherer, which suggests a love of money over community. Each account tells of the dinner party and what kind of people attended. He hung around a crowd of “sinners.” It is well known that the religious community did not approve of Jesus’ attending Matthew’s dinner party, although there is no indication that Jesus was an unwelcome guest or that He did not enjoy the event.

So the key message behind Matthew’s call is who he was before. Let’s compare him with Peter:

Peter

Matthew

Reputable business

Disreputable business

Reputable friends

Disreputable friends

Asked Jesus to leave because of sin

Invited his friends because of sin

Discovered that he was lost

Knew that he was lost

Matthew may have been the first to fully appreciate Jesus’ mission to “seek and save that which is lost.” On earth, Jesus never compromised the highest standard of righteousness. He did not compromise it with His life. He did not compromise it with His teaching. Peter, full of the traditional teaching of the day, heard Jesus words and condemned himself, even if Jesus did not. Matthew and his friends heard Jesus words and found hope for a new life. Jesus diagnosed the sickness and offered the cure. Matthew heard something new. He heard that the Father loved him. He invited his friends to hear the same message, and then followed Jesus to learn more.

Quick side note: the church today must emulate Jesus’ way on earth. It seems as if many churches preach the righteous standard, but are not hospitable to “unclean” new comers. Other churches seem to be more open, but often at the expense of lowered standards. In the first case, sinners are driven away. In the second case, they are not challenged to mature. We must find the way to call out sin while communicating acceptance and offering hope of change. If we succeed, our churches must meet the new challenges such success will bring. Imagine the Sunday school classes populated with children from Christian homes and other kinds of homes. How will the Christian parents react? How do you prepare them to face their fears about the influences that the church leadership has allowed into the church? This is a deep and complicated subject and I must postpone its development for another time. I will say, however, that the answer is to understand what Paul means by “power” when he says that the gospel is the “power of God for salvation.” Examine Paul’s use of this word power and see if you do not long for something more than you are used to seeing.

In any case, Matthew is singled out for special mention because Jesus called a "sinner" and made him into a disciple in the inner circle. Many of us have pasts. Don't ever think that you are disqualified for intimacy with God or disqualified from serving Him. Matthew's story tells us otherwise.

Friday: Jesus Chooses the Twelve

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