Matthew Levi finished the column he was adding and sat back. His eyes still studied the numbers. Seemed hardly possible, but he could almost afford that delicious little grape arbor he'd been eying since last summer.
He forced a smile. Where was the satisfaction he'd assumed he would feel once he'd achieved his financial goals?
"Hey, Levi. Take a look at this little bounty." Simeon bar Judah opened his money bag and proudly displayed the day's take. "Sure you don't wanna go in with me and the boys on our little scheme to squeeze a few more denarii out of the simpletons in our district?" Simeon's lips smiled but his eyes were hard. Tax collecting did that to you.
Matthew shook his head. "No thanks. I've told you. I'm doing this for the money, but I'm doing it honestly. It's just a job. I won't take advantage of my brothers."
Simeon snorted. "Brothers! Ha! Might as well get what you can from them. You've got the same reputation we do. Those brothers you're protecting think you're dirty anyway. Go ahead and enjoy yourself."
Acid pooled in Matthew's stomach and his fists clenched beneath his tax collector's booth. How'd he get here? Where had it all gone wrong? He'd only meant to make a quick profit and then get out. He never meant to be branded forever as a publican and an outcast. But he would always be known as Matthewthetaxcollector.
A shadow fell over his table. Startled, he forgot to adopt his usual expression of stern disdain. A tall man, a rabbi, studied him quizzically. Matthew knew without asking that his man was not here to pay his required tax.
"Matthew, follow me." The Rabbi's voice was low and gentle, but the words pelted Matthew like a public stoning.
He leaped to his feet, knocking his chair backward. His heart gave an odd lurch. "How do you know me?"
The man only smiled. He looked away for a moment and Matthew saw over his shoulder a small group of men watching the exchange. He wrinkled his nose. Fishermen, obviously, from the smell. From their expressions, it was clear some of them did not approve of this discussion.
But there was something about them. Something about this stranger. He studied the face of the tall man and a tremor started somewhere inside. This was the One they were all talking about, wasn't it? The Rabbi from Nazareth. A rabbi wanted him? Matthew, the tax collector?
Now a larger group had formed around them, questions on every face. He knew what they were thinking.
"I...well..." He glanced only once at the pile of money under his table. It may just as well have been a pile of rocks. He no longer wanted it.
"Yes. Yes, I'll come. But first, you come home with me, you and...and all your men there. Let me prepare a great feast for you!"
The Rabbi nodded and smiled again. "That would be wonderful. I hear you have an excellent cook."
Matthew kicked the chair out of the way without looking at it. As he walked around the table, he had the sense that he was walking out of prison. He felt himself growing taller with every step.
He beckoned to the Rabbi and strode toward the street, head held high. The Rabbi fell into step with him and the ragtag band of men followed at a distance.
"Hey, Levi!" Simeon's shout came from behind him.
Matthew kept walking.
"Levi! Get back here! You're still on duty!"
For the first time today--the first time in months--Matthew Levi smiled.
Where did Jesus find you?
He calls his followers from every corner, every occupation, every lifestyle. Jesus does not care where you've been or what you've done. He cares about who you are and where you are going?
Matthew, also called Levi, felt himself trapped in an unforgiving career, labeled "unfit" by those whose respect he deeply wanted. Only the transforming power of Jesus could change a despised tax collector into an apostle, writer of the first book of the New Testament.
What label do you wear?Janie the teen mom? Robin the divorcee? Steven the preacher who fell?
Have you labeled yourself "unfit"?
There is no such person in God's opinion. He chose Matthew because he was a tax collector, not in spite of it. Jesus was making a public statement, as he explained to the outraged Pharisees later. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
If you are a sinner, then He's talking about you.
If Matthew could leave it all behind and become a new person, so can you. He never looked back at that tax collector's booth. When Jesus changes you, you stay changed.
What are you waiting for? He just called your name...