In the opening book of the New Testament, Matthew vividly records the ministry life of Jesus. He was an eyewitness.
By the time that we arrive at chapter 10 of the book, Matthew reports on a powerful commissioning. The account says – “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority…”
Then Matthew leaves no guesswork to the names of the twelve: “The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
The list is efficient. Names with few details. In fact, the only resume given is that of Matthew himself. Curious, isn’t it?
This is particularly provocative with the word association that would have most freely erupted when “tax collector” was invoked. Throughout the record of Jesus’ earthly life we hear of Jesus being ridiculed and ostracized by the religious community because he associated with tax collectors and sinners – and yet here, in Matthew 10, during disciple roll call, the author refers to himself as “Matthew the tax collector.” Add to this the fact that the Holy Spirit of God inspired him to put this on his historic resume.
And yet – in this declaration there is no shame; there is no remedial work invoked, there is no lack of grace applied.
Additionally, there is no overt denunciation of the profession. In fact, the Gospel of Luke records the fact that tax collectors who came to be baptized asked John the Baptist, “What shall we do?” John replied: “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”
The mission is straightforward; redeem the profession. Remake the reputation of your role. It isn’t tax collecting that’s the problem, it’s what happens when tax collectors abuse the role and the power and the opportunity.
So in Matthew 10, the personal reference, “Matthew the tax collector,” seems to be less of a condemnation of the past and more about a proclamation of the power of redemption. Tax collectors can be Christ followers; just like fishermen, and doctors, and laborers, and professionals, and clergy can be disciples.
In Matthew’s self-declaration he denounces every distortion of power and privilege – he also highlights the broad reach of grace. He doesn’t call himself a Christian Tax Collector – he makes the bold assumption that a Christ follower won’t waste the adjective. Matthew’s calling had redeemed not only his soul, but every aspect of his life. He was competent, skilled, and honest – as a tax collector.
Jesus calls us to redeem every aspect of our lives. Every professional competency, every athletic skill, every accumulated asset, every trust-filled relationship… everything.
When sinners follow Jesus – everything changes – including tax collecting.
May it be so for all of us. Don’t waste the adjective – live as a follower of the one true God.