Thursday, April 2, 2015

Jesus and the GST Collector

[Jesus] saw a man named Matthew. Matthew was sitting in the tax office.
Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And Matthew stood up and followed Jesus
(Matthew 9:9, ICB)

Well, to better understand this wonderful story we need to know something about Matthew. Matthew or Levi was a dishonest tax collector driven by greed and materialism. He first appears in the Scripture in his tax office or booth on the main highway where he was collecting duties on imported good brought by farmers, merchants and caravans. Matthew is a Jew who worked for Roman Empire. A traitor. Matthew was protected by Roman soldiers. A bully. Matthew charged extra-taxes for his own profit. A corrupt officer.

In case you don’t feel angry when you read the word “tax collector” (as the Jews in Jesus’ day felt), then perhaps you can see it this way. Imagine Matthew was a nominal believer who living in contradict with the religious laws and rules. Imagine he worked for ISIS or Boko Haram. Imagine he was escorted by few religious fundamentalist soldiers with guns everywhere he go. Imagine, instead of collecting taxes as he should (say, 10%), he collects more than what is required (16%) and make wealth for himself with extra tax charges that he collected (6%). Okay, if you’re a Malaysian, imagine the implementation of GST (Goods and Services Tax) last 1st April. What was your initial feeling toward GST? Are you angry with Matthew now?

From anger, I also want you to feel confuse. “Jesus had dinner at Matthew’s house. Many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with Jesus and his followers” (Matthew 9:10, ICB). What was Jesus thinking? Jesus, considered by many as honourable rabbi or teacher or leader, came to Matthew, a sinner, the tax collector. Instead of Matthew should call him, he first called Matthew to follow him. He entered a well-known sinner’s house, ate with him and having food party with other traitors, bullies, corrupt officers, sinners and his own imperfect disciples. Jesus first welcomed Matthew. Now, Matthew welcomed others into his house so that they could meet Jesus too. This is amazing, instead of collecting tax money and GST, Matthew collected souls for Jesus. When people saw this happened, they were confused. “The Pharisees saw this and asked Jesus’ followers, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Matthew 9:12, ICB)

Jesus heard the Pharisees ask this. So he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor. Only the sick need a doctor. Go and learn what this means: ‘I want faithful love more than I want animal sacrifices.’ I did not come to invite good people. I came to invite sinners’” (Matthew 9:12-13).
How can we miss this? Jesus mission to the world is to invite sinners to Himself. We sometime missed this crucial point by organizing activities among ourselves only – Christian concerts, Christian gatherings, Christian prayer revivals, worship seminars, etc. – and forget about others outside our Christian ‘bubble’ who need to encounter Jesus of the Bible first-hand for their lives to radically change like Matthew.

Matthew was a tax collector, now he became God’s writer (Gospel according to Matthew). Matthew was a materialist, now an evangelist (he brings others to Jesus). Matthew was a sinner, now a saint (who continues to walk with Jesus for the rest of his life). Jesus is amazing! I think Jesus’ interaction with Matthew should serve to remind us that we are never too sinful to be saved by Jesus.Follow Me” is Jesus’ call to everyone who are willing to take a first step of faith toward him. You, me and even the GST collectors – are require to respond to Jesus’ call, “Follow Me.” No force. No string attached. No conditions. Just “Follow Me.”

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