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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder

THE CALL OF MATTHEW

Luke 5:27-32 And after these things He went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He said unto him, Follow Me. And he left all, rose up, and followed Him.And Levi made Him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Also see Mark 2:13-17; Matt. 9:9-13)

Due to the incidents, which surround the call of Matthew, we are assured that it took place in Capernaum, which is situated on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. This was also the home of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. And now we learn that it is also the home of Matthew. With few exceptions, the man referred to in Luke's record as Levi (as well as the Gospel according to Luke), was, indeed Matthew. And in the gospel, which bears his name, he refers to himself as Matthew (Matt. 9:9). In all three gospels, which record this incident, the call of Matthew, immediately followed the healing of the man sick of the palsy. Due to this, we know that Levi and Matthew refer to the same person.

And in each recording, he is also referred to as a publican, that is, a tax gatherer - an independent tax collector hired by the Roman government to collect various types of taxes, which included land and poll taxes, as well as tariffs on commodities transported through their lands. Some publicans were of Roman descent, but some were also, Jews. And such was Matthew. The Jews hated all publicans, but one of their own, such as Matthew, that held the position of a tax collector, was hated even more because he was considered to be a traitor. As publicans, they were known for their corruption. They personally profited by levying and collecting excessive taxes, which they kept for themselves. They were often mentioned along with Gentile heathens, whom the Jews also hated (Matt. 18:17). Passing by, Jesus saw Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom, and He said unto him, Follow Me. We have no record of Matthew associating with Jesus prior to this. However, it is probable that he knew of Him, because the fame of Jesus had now spread throughout the area. When asked to follow Jesus, he did so without hesitation. Both Mark and Matthew tell us this, but Luke adds another bit of information. He said that Matthew left all to do so. As history describes publicans, we assume that Matthew gained great wealth from his profession as a tax collector. But, when called to follow Jesus, he left all his earthly possessions behind, rose up, and followed Him.

Both Matthew and Mark follow this by saying that Jesus dined, or sat at meat, with Matthew.Luke tells us that this took place atthe home of Levi (Matthew). Levi made Him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them (Luke 5:29). Other publicans, whom Matthew probably knew, were also present at this repast. Both Mark and Luke mentioned that scribes and Pharisees were either present at this event or were able to see the feast that was taking place from some other vantage point. Matthew mentions only the Pharisees as witnessing the feast and those attending. Observing what was taking place, the scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, Why do Ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? Notice that tax collectors and sinners are mentioned together, which indicates the hatred the Jews had for both classes of people. Exactly who those known as sinners include, has received much debate. Jews never refer to any of their heritage as sinners, therefore it is easily concluded that they were other tax collector friends of Matthew that have Roman, or heathen descent. To have companionship and to mix socially with those detested by the Jewish notables, naturally brought about the question of why they were doing so.

To their accusation, Jesus replied with this profound answer: They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Because the scribes and Pharisees thought themselves to be pure and holy, Jesus knew they wouldn't accept His teaching. They were sinners in need of repentance. However, those that realize, due to their sinful life, that they are separated from God, will be more likely to hear, repent, obey, and be reconciled to God as His repentant children. This was the mission of Jesus Christ at that time of biblical history, and, through dedicated, faithful Christianstoday, it is still His mission.