Matthew 9:9. “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, He saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He saith unto him, “Follow Me.” And he arose, and followed Him.”
So much drama, contained in so few words!
Matthew was a Jew, a publican; he was a social outcast among his own people, who considered him a turncoat for serving the hated Roman government. Hating the tax collectors was one of the few things the Pharisees and Sadducees found on which they could agree. Tax collectors were considered apostates because they sold out their own people to the Gentiles who ruled their land.
They were also, often, thieves and extortioners who lined their own pockets by overcharging their countrymen.There were so many really good reasons to hate them!
Matthew, also called Levi in the gospels, was sitting outdoors, possibly in a place near the town market or in a courtyard where people gathered to do business. It is likely that he was seated at a table, using parchment and pen to record names and amounts as people came to pay their taxes. It is likely that there were bags of money, possibly a box or chest that was secured from bandits. It is also very likely that there were Roman soldiers nearby, keeping an eye on the people who did not bother to hide their scorn and hatred for both Matthew and the Romans.
I like to imagine Jesus letting His eyes rest on poor Matthew, hated and scorned by his countrymen; possibly by his own family, who were probably ashamed of his line of work. Maybe Matthew was a greedy soul, deciding to make the best of the Roman occupation. So he sat there, recording and counting and trying to ignore the waves of hatred that billowed around him as he worked.
Then Jesus walked up. It would be very easy to dramatize this meeting in which Jesus calls His first disciple to drop everything and follow Him. But there was no rhetoric. There were no bells and whistles and dancing bears. There wasn’t even a recorded conversation in which Jesus said, “Matthew, I am the Son of God. I want you for My disciple. Please follow Me.”
Also, as the writer of this account, Matthew could have spent some time putting himself in a much better light. Perhaps he could have drawn a word picture of a man who, in his heart, was truly seeking God. Maybe he could have written about a prick of conscience that prepared him to meet Jesus.
I don’t think it ever occured to him to do so. Matthew knew the honor that was given him to pen the first gospel presenting Jesus as the King, and he knew that he himself was not the main character. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this event exactly as he did.
Jesus approached. Matthew must have looked up from his work, his eyes widening as he perhaps recognized the Man Who was being talked about as a miracle worker. Maybe there was a moment or two of complete silence while onlookers wondered if Jesus would denounce Matthew for being a tax collector. I think there was important eye contact between Jesus and Matthew, and that much was understood without being spoken.
And as Jesus turned to walk away, Matthew got up, left everything behind, and followed Him.
No questions, no conditions, no hesitation, no doubt.
Matthew recognized the Master. Would we?