So here’s the part of yesterday’s sermon that is most compelling for me. The texts are Matthew 4:18-22 and 9:9; you can read the whole thing here.
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Peter and Andrew, James and John and Matthew don’t just leave behind stuff, they leave behind their most comfortable identities–the work and family relationships that give them value in the eyes of society and, probably, in their own eyes as well. They don’t just leave behind stuff, they leave behind their identities. They go from fisherman or tax collector to, “fisher of people,” follower of Jesus–whatever that is!
And there is something else that the new disciples must leave behind–there on the lake shore, there at the tax booth. It is something that is not obvious at first. Something I never thought of at all until I came across a fascinating article this week by K.C. Hanson titled, “The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition.”
Here’s the pertinent information: “Fishermen received capitalization along with fishing rights, and were therefore indebted to local brokers responsible for the harbors and for fishing leases. The location of [Matthew's] toll office in Capernaum—an important fishing locale—probably identifies him as just such a contractor of royal fishing rights.”
This means that Matthew could have been the tax collector who took the exorbitant government fees from Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Matthew could have been the tax collector that overcharged them so he could have a nice paycheck for himself.
Regardless of whether Matthew was the tax collector, he definitely was a tax collector and therefore represented the most intimate form of Roman oppression that the fishermen experienced; he represented the system that kept them scrambling for a living while they were forced to help provide the means for others to live in luxury.
There is Matthew, at his tax booth. Imagine what Peter and the rest must have thought when they noticed that Jesus was approaching the booth. When they saw that Jesus was about to say something to the tax collector. They were probably pretty excited, mischievous gleams in their eyes.
“Ahhh, look,” they would say to each other, “Jesus is gonna let that tax collector have it! He’s gonna go tell him that Jews have no business sucking up to Rome, making money off of their own people, living in luxury while we practically starve. He’s gonna turn over that table and tell him where he can stick all those denarius. Jesus is gonna march right up to that tax collector and say–“
That is not what they expected Jesus to say.
And then that tax collector left his tax booth and joined them all as they followed Jesus down the streets of Capernum.
That is not what they expected the tax collector to do.
Yes, the fishermen leave behind their nets. Yes, Matthew leaves behind his booth. They also find they must leave behind their prejudices, their expectations about other people, and even their expectations about Jesus.