Matthew: How was he changed for the good - Matthew 9:9-13

A sermon for the congregation of the Good Shepherd, Kingston, Ontario, June 9, 2002

by Robert Brow  (

"As Jesus was walking along he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him,"Follow me" (Matthew 9:9). I used to imagine this was a sudden unexpected conversion. But I now think this was Jesus' invitation to Matthew to join his team of apostles. And that happened several months after Matthew first heard Jesus speaking. So this is how I picture him as a young man.

He was a very bright student. In addition to his native Aramaic, he knew Greek, the language of the civilized world, and Latin the language of Rome. He was also good at mathematics, and could have got in business as an accountant. Everybody said he had a great future ahead of him.

But one day Matthew came home and said he had got a job. "Who are you going to work for?" When he told his parents he was going to work in the tax department, they were horrified. "Please don't tell anyone. Our family will be dishonored if people hear you work for the Romans." Nobody likes paying taxes, and the Roman tax gathering system was ruthless and hated by everyone.

The first work Matthew was assigned was going round house to house accompanied by two soldiers to assess how much each household could pay. That depended on how many rooms there were in the house, the size of the garden, their possessions, what they had in the bank.. "Ah, I see you have a camel and a couple of donkeys. That puts you up in the next tax bracket." Soon Matthew's parents heard their son called a traitor, and they disowned him. He was no longer welcome home.

Then Matthew got the contract to collect taxes on the main road through Capernaum across the Jordan through Bethsaida, and up towards Damascus. All the Romans wanted was the annual amount of the contract, let's say a million dollars, and Matthew could have his assistants collect as much as they could force people to pay. So he could easily double or treble what he had paid for the contract.

Inevitably his school friends dumped him. He partied with other tax collectors, and their friends were the pickpockets, and drunks, and prostitutes of the city. He quit attending the synagogue. He became a total outcaste among respectable people. But he was making money, and that's what counted.

What changed Matthew?

I imagine him walking along the waterfront, and he saw a man in a boat and a big crowd listening to him sitting on the shore. He told parables that grabbed Matthew's attention. He discovered his name was Jesus, and he wasn't giving a string of rules and regulations like the Pharisees. There were no threats of hell fire, and apparently God still loves us regardless of what people think. He saw people being baptized, and he heard he could be enrolled with them for evening classes to learn more. He sat next to a woman he had defrauded, and she smiled at him. He continued working at his tax office, but he found himself letting a poor widow go by with her donkey without paying.

At the end of the classes Jesus came by his office, and asked him to join his preaching team. His colleagues in the tax department thought he had gone mad, so he decided to throw a big party and invite all his friends to hear Jesus and ask questions. Some of Jesus' disciples also came, and you can imagine they felt a bit embarrassed sitting with the worst characters in town. Jesus obviously enjoyed himself, and accepted wine and remarked on the excellent vintage Matthew had served. All the guests enjoyed Jesus' answers to their questions. But the Pharisees saw this and asked why Jesus could be friendly with such terrible people. So Jesus explained that you don't find a doctor among the healthy, but among the sick (9:12).

What does this mean for you and me?

"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (9:12). I remember one period of my life I felt so well I never went to a doctor for seven years. Now I have to go for this and that every few weeks. But Jesus was speaking of the spiritual sickness of our hearts. Have you ever talked to him about that deep sadness, that sense of failure in your life? What about that anger that is still burning you up. Some of you have divorce and family break-up that is very upsetting for you and the children involved. That is something you can talk over with Jesus the great physician. He is qualified to deal with every kind of heartache. One in three persons have had thoughts of suicide, and that is certainly something he wants to help you with. He said "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

But you have to be honest with your doctor. Many men try to pretend there is nothing wrong with them. It does not take long in Jesus's consulting room, and he can see you anytime - today, right now if you want to talk to him.

So let's have a minute of silent prayer - and as soon as you are honest with him, healing has begun.

Note on images for a church congregation The church is like a boat from which Jesus can preach and tell parables. We are like a banquet for Jesus' friends. And we offer a doctor's office where Jesus can deal with every kind of human heart ache.

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