A man on vacation was strolling along outside his hotel in Acapulco, enjoying the sunny Mexican weather. Suddenly, he heard the screams of a woman. Rushing to help, he found the woman cradling a young boy.
The man knew enough Spanish to determine that the child had swallowed a coin and was choking. He grabbed the child by the heels, held him up, gave him a few firm swats on the back, and an American quarter dropped to the sidewalk.
“Oh, thank you sir!” cried the woman. “You seemed to know just how to get it out of him. Are you a doctor?”
“No, ma’am,” replied the man. “I’m with the United States Internal Revenue Service.”
I am sure we could find one, but I doubt there are many other individuals who are more universally disliked than the tax man. Even when our tax dollars are spent for good reasons, it just irks us to give them up and a person who’s job it is to collect them… they’re just not all that appreciated. Our Saint for the day and the patron of our congregation, St. Matthew, was one such person.
In the time of Jesus, the tax collectors were known as publicans and the tax organization sounds like a multilevel marketing scheme. You’ve got the guy at the top, then another level below him/her, and each of them has a level below them. In the case of taxes, the ones on the bottom are doing most of the collecting. What they collect is then passed up the food chain to the head person, who then passes it all onto the government. Only catch: everyone in the chain, from the lowest to the highest is going to make sure they get a cut, so instead of simply charging the taxed amount, they charge more to insure they get their piece of the pie. (By the way, we still do things like this: see the $600 hammer.) Our St. Matthew was on the bottom rung, but he was still hated by both Gentiles and Jews.
He was hated by the Gentiles because he was a tax man and they knew he was overtaxing them and he was hated by the Jews for the same reason, but even more so, because he himself was a Jew that was working for the occupying Romans. He had no friends except for other tax collectors. Of all the candidates that could have been selected to proclaim the Kingdom of God, this Matthew was the least likely, yet Jesus did what we have seen God do on a number of occasions. As we’ve been learning in our Sunday morning study, he chose Abraham who wasn’t even a believer to begin with, he chose Jonah who wanted absolutely nothing to do with those apostate Ninevites, he chose David who would be an adulterer and murderer, he chose Mary who was just a young girl. Matthew and all the rest aren’t the odd ones out when it comes to being called into God’s service. They are the norm!
We believe that God can only use those who are holy and righteous, but as Jesus tells us, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Why would that be? Because someone who is healthy can give a good testimony, but someone who is sick and is then healed can become a powerful witness, which is why Jesus called a tax collector named Matthew and why he called each of us. Like Matthew and the others, we were all once sick in our sin, but now we are the ones who can give witness to the mercy and healing power of our God.
Like Matthew, live your life as a witness to the Good News and the merciful healing of our God.