Matthew must have been surprised when Jesus walked up to him and said, “Follow me.” He probably fell off the stool in his customs booth!
Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax collector in the town of Capernaum. Most tax collectors were hated by the Jews because they worked for the Romans, who had conquered the land. A tax collector could use his position honestly or dishonestly. The temptation to use the position to become rich was great. Now do you think the choice of Matthew was surprising?
Yet Jesus chose a tax collector to follow him, to learn from him, and to go out and spread the Good News to others. The call from Jesus was more powerful than the call of wealth. Matthew left his work as tax collector. He invited Jesus to a dinner where other tax collectors (publicans) and sinners were gathered. The Pharisees were upset when they saw this, and they said to the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard them and replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” (See Matthew 9:9–13.)
We know nothing other than that about Matthew from the Scriptures, but we do know that Matthew preached the Good News of Christ, and at least part of the Gospel attributed to him was first written for the Jewish converts in Palestine. There is some uncertainty about where Matthew preached and where and how he died. Some say Matthew went to Persia; some say Syria and Greece, while others say Ethiopia. Yet we can learn much from Matthew. He was a man who knew quite well the power of money. He knew the comfort it could ensure, the recreation it could buy, the luxury it could provide. But he was wise enough to know what it could not do. Money could never give him that sense of peace deep inside. It could never befriend him when he was lonely or give him the strength and courage to go on when all else seemed lost. Money could never buy him forgiveness or love. But the love of Christ could do all this and more.