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Sep 21, 2015

St. Matthew and Letting Go of False Gods

Chris Mueller

1095px-Caravaggio,_Michelangelo_Merisi_da_-_The_Calling_of_Saint_Matthew_-_1599-1600_(hi_res)Matthew is one of the most recognized of the Apostles, but he is only mentioned a total of four times in Scripture. One mention, Matthew 9:9-13, relates his call. The others simply list him as one of the Twelve. It is likely that his familiarity can be attributed to the Gospel that is attributed to him, and from occupation prior to becoming an Apostle. Matthew was a tax collector and we are told this made him rather unlikeable amongst his Jewish brothers and sisters.

For a modern reader it is hard to fully comprehend why Matthew was so disliked. Of course, no one likes to pay taxes, but is that really enough to condemn a man so thoroughly? Right now there are around 90,000 employees of the Internal Revenue Service. They may suffer the occasional joke from friends and relations at parties but that is about as far as most of the derision goes. Matthew, on the other hand, would have been considered amongst the lowest of the low in Jewish society. So, what was the big deal about Matthew being a tax collector? It is important to understand that it was not just about the taxes.

At the time of Christ there was no distinction between the secular world and the religious. The Roman Empire was not just another government. It was another religion as well. The emperor did not only claim the right to rule. He claimed to be the son of a divine God. It actually said that right on the denarius, a coin from the time that Matthew would have handled regularly. Do you see the problem now? Matthew, one of God’s chosen people, was not just collecting taxes. He was serving a false god. On top of that, this service of another god required him to levy taxes on his own people. These things were a recipe for a very, very deep dislike.

The Calling of Matthew

Matthew 9:9-13 then presents a scene that is perhaps more dramatic than you realize. It is a showdown. The true God confronts the false god. Matthew, the apostate Jew and servant of a man falsely claiming to be the son of God, comes into encounter with the Son of the Living God. Jesus looks at Matthew and says “Follow me.” Please note, there is no question mark. Jesus does not ask Matthew to follow. Jesus makes no promises to Matthew at this time. It is not “follow me and everything is going to be wonderful.” He simply reveals his will for Matthew’s life in that moment. Matthew then has a choice: Continue to serve an imposter or respond to the will of God for his life. Matthew gives up convenience and comfort. He gives up earthly security and embraces God’s will. He follows. (Tweet this)

Jesus desires the same of us. “Follow Me,” he says. It is not a question, and the challenge we face is the same: Will I forsake comfort and convenience? Will I let go of earthly security and place my faith in the security of God’s will? Matthew was literally in the service of a false god and many of us, if we are totally honest, find ourselves in the same situation. Matthew’s false god was the Roman emperor. All too often our false gods are ourselves. A great way to test this is to examine the various areas of your life. Is Jesus the Lord of your finances? Is he the Lord of your sexuality? Is he the Lord of your fertility? Is he the Lord of your time? If he is not, then you probably are. When we hear Jesus call to Matthew “follow me” we must realize he is asking the same of us. He is asking us to give up our false God’s too.

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  • Thank you for the “insights” of Matthews time, and the “follow me” or continue serving other false gods: “me”. Excellent!

  • Thank you for this Chris, Your post is very timely for me. I was asking myself this question yesterday: “Am I willing to follow Jesus all the time or just when it’s convenient?” “Will I do it only if it gains me acceptance by those around me or even if it makes me appear foolish?” I haven’t received the answer yet but I think the Lord is being merciful in not letting me see the answer all at once :). I learn by analogies, so would it be correct to say that Matthew would be in our time what a police informant would be to criminals and police. Accepted by neither but compensated well for it….? The main reason I commented on your post though is because it reminds me of a question I’ve been wondering about; were the Jewish religious leaders, that were in power when Jesus came, appointed by the Romans? Something like the government appointed bishops of the Chinese Catholic church as opposed to the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in China?

  • I appreciated the fact that you pointed out that Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus commands him to follow Him…So often in recent years, we hear that God asks us to follow Him…and to my mind there is a difference…in asking one leaves the other with options…with the other though you don’t have to follow, God tells us there is no other options acceptable to Him. God doesn’t say well, “If you want to, Great!” or “If you don’t, that is alright, too.” For God, there is only one thing possible…to follow Him. And this means, for those who choose to follow, a change in lifestyle-one that centers around living for God. And this can put you at odds with those in your circle of family, friends, and acquaintances at times. And it is at these times that our commitment to God will be tested…it is that the “rubber meets the road” so to speak.

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