The Calling of Matthew
by Melanie Wai
What you are about to read is a work of fiction. Though taken from scripture, the details are completely from my imagination and how I envisioned the events to take place given the research I did. I write as God leads me to write and it is always my prayer that you read with an open heart and mind to His Spirit and His leading.
“Traitor!” the woman angrily shouted at him as he walked along the main road of Capernaum to his booth. Ignoring her, he continued walking. Over the years he had learned to block out the taunts and insults.
Though a Jew, he was an agent of Rome, and many, if not all of his fellow Jews saw this as an act of treason and betrayal. He was a tax collector for the Roman Empire and more often than not he skimmed off the top, collecting more than what was required, enriching himself at the expense of his fellow Jews. It was how he had become a wealthy man. He liked his wealth. He liked his large home, his servants, his place among the other tax collectors. It was the only way he could endure the ridicule and disrespect he encountered everyday.
Dust suddenly burst up at his foot like a tiny explosion as saliva splattered across his sandaled foot. The woman had spit at him. Though this was not unusual, he still did not like it. Especially lately. The scorn seemed to linger in his mind, bothering him late into the night…stuck inside his head, never leaving, causing him to seriously think about his way of life. It started when he came to town. That teacher and healer. Jesus was his name. He had even gone to hear him speak a couple of times, hiding in the back of the crowd, just to see what the man had to say that got everyone so excited.
His words had awakened something inside him. Something he had no explanation for, but made his heart burn with conviction and wonder.
“Hello Master Levi!”
He looked up, shaken from his thoughts and saw one of his attendants already at the booth setting things in order. “Hello Gamliel” he responded as he approached and set his things down. “Where is Uri?”
“He should be here soon. It looks like it’s going to be another warm day” said Gamliel.
“So it does” replied Levi.
They worked in silence at they prepared the booth for the day’s collection. Uri, Levi’s other attendant soon arrived, apologizing profusely for his tardiness and helped with the preparation.
As the booth was made ready, Levi sat and began going through his ledger noting the names, amounts owed, his cut.
Of course this was never actually kept in the ledger as a separate item. This was kept in his head. Lately it began cutting through his heart.
He again thought of Jesus. No one spoke as this man did. Why had his words affected him so? Made him re-think how he was living, what he was doing, stirred up things inside him that he had never felt before.
As Levi began going through the motions of his job, he did something he promised himself he would never do. He looked into the eyes of those from whom he was taking. And without exception, as bags of coins were reluctantly surrendered, every eye was filled with contempt and hatred. Person after person, family after family, man after man. With each mark in his ledger, Levi’s heart grew heavier and heavier.
The day progressed and the sun had bullied the morning clouds away with the flexing of its bright afternoon rays. Levi’s attendants had just opened another panel of the booth so a breeze could blow through when the hum of the crowd along the main road began to grow in excitement. Levi looked towards all the activity.
It was him.
Jesus was coming. And it looked like he was going to pass right by his booth. Levi’s heart began to pound. Jesus was going to walk past his booth! Thoughts and apprehension began running though his mind. Everything he had heard this man say came rushing back into his head like a great cascading waterfall of truth, authority, certitude and hope. But would Jesus look at him with that same look of contempt and hatred that everyone else did?
He could see from the corner of his eye that the crowd was getting closer. That Jesus was getting closer. He became nervous. Would he move to the far side of the road as most people did when they walked by? Levi busied himself with the numbers in his ledger as everyone approached. A hush suddenly settled over the crowd as Jesus came to a stop in front of his booth. Levi grew very still. He was afraid to look at him for a moment. But when he lifted his head and looked into his eyes, what he saw there made him grateful that he was sitting. For it wasn’t hatred. It wasn’t contempt. It wasn’t anger.
It was love.
It was acceptance.
It was strength.
And Levi knew at once that this man was his answer. The answer to his sleepless nights, the answer to the change in his heart, to the awakening inside him. And when Jesus said those two words, Levi moved without hesitation, without caring what people thought, or what people said. He never heard the objections of the crowd or his attendants as he went. He just knew he had to obey. He wanted to obey. He was ready to obey.
Just two words.
Such power in those two words. Jesus looked beyond Levi’s greediness, his crime, his sin and saw a different man. He saw a man with a different name. A name that means “gift of God.” Matthew. He saw Matthew’s heart. He saw Matthew not for who he was, but for who he could be and met him right where he was.
Our calling is the same. We need to see people not for who they are but for who they could be. And meet them right where they are. Are you there? Or do you move to the far side of the road and avoid “those people”? Do you see them with love and acceptance? Or is your heart filled with contempt and intolerance because of their sin? Are you ready to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and find your Matthew?
Following Jesus is not about hiding or isolating ourselves from sinners; it’s about building meaningful relationships with people who need to see the hope we carry.
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