Summary: Matthew was a rebel who had fulfilled his dream in the world, and who realized it was not satisfying. He calls himself the publican, however, in his Gospel, because he rejoices that he is a trophy of grace.
Someone said, you never could take your money with you, but
some can remember when the government would let you keep
some while you were still here. It is hard for many to believe that
our country was founded partly to avoid taxation. As bad as taxes
are, however, only two classes of people ever complain-men and
women. Taxes are nothing new, however. The Romans had just
about every tax we do today, and they were heavy. Rome needed
taxes because she built the best road system the world had ever
seen. Some of the roads built in New Testament times are still in
use today. Trade was booming because of the road system.
Soldiers patrolled the roads to protect travellers from bandits.
To maintain this system and highway patrol protection, plus build
government buildings, town halls, baths and stadiums, there was a
need for many taxes.
They taxed one tenth of crops of grain, one fifth of produce of
wine, oil, and fruit, plus they had an income tax of one percent.
On top of this, they had a poll tax for men 14 to 65 and women 12to 65.
This was one denarius a year, which was the wages of an
average man for one day. Then, of course, there were the import-export
taxes, the road taxes, the harbor taxes, and the tax for the
use of the market place. Custom officers were stationed
everywhere to collect these taxes, and they had the power to be
very unjust. It is known that some levied taxes so high the trader
could not pay, and so the tax collector would loan him the money
for his tax at a high interest rate. It was literal highway robbery.
This tax burden and the abused power of the tax collector has
survived into the modern day. Charles Brown, the dean of Yale
Divinity School, went to Palestine years ago when it was under
Turkish control. He talked to a farmer in Jericho who told him he
was required to place his harvested crop of wheat in ten stacks.
He made them as even as possible because the tax collector had
the right to come and select one of the ten for the state. To get the
tax collector to come and make his selection he had to give the
collector another of the ten stacks for his personal fee. Then to
get a paper signed permitting him to thresh his crop he had to
give another stack in final payment.
This same kind of oppression was going on in New Testament
days, and the Jews despised it, and everyone connected with it.
The Jews were not opposed to taxes, but, as a theocracy, they felt
only a God appointed man had the right to collect taxes. They did
not mind supporting their government, but the objected to the
support of a foreign government. Those who cooperated with the
Romans were considered traitors to Israel. They were so hated
that their money was not accepted in the temple. Their word was
of no value in court, and they were listed by the Jews along with
harlots and murderers. Even the Romans themselves did not
respect the tax collector. Cicero said that it was a trade
unbecoming to a gentleman, and it was vulgar. Lucian listed them
with a adulterous, informers, and money-lenders. All in all it was
a class of people highly unlikely to contribute anyone to a
religious movement, and yet Jesus chose one of these tax collectors
to be one of His 12 select men.
Matthew the publican was chosen long before the only Pharisee
Jesus ever chose as an Apostle, which was Paul. Matthew, or Levi
as he is called, also had potential which no one else would have
ever tried to discover, but Jesus not only discovered it, He
developed an used it. When Matthew left his tax booth he took his
pen with him, and was used of God to record words of Jesus which
we would otherwise not have, and be much the poorer. The
Sermon on the Mount being just one of the major examples.
In 1844 a New Testament scholar visited the monestery of St.
Catherine on Mt. Sinai. While there he saw some papers in a
basket. His eye detected Greek characters which turned out to be
the famous manuscript of the Bible called Codex Sinaiticus. It
was a copy that dated back to the 4th century. To the monks
there it was just an old Bible of no value, but to the scholar it was
a priceless discovery. So it was with Matthew the publican. To his
own people he was a worthless Jew; a disgrace to his nation, and
of no value at all, but to Jesus he was so precious that he chose him