Matthew is seventh on our list of Jesus’s disciples, though he may be one of the earlier ones that Jesus calls. Mark and Luke both refer to him as Levi, the fifth person in the Bible with that name, Levi (5).
The one thing we know about Matthew is that he collects taxes. Often when the Bible mentions tax collectors it’s part of the phrase “tax collectors and sinners.” Though this doesn’t imply that being a tax collector is a sinful job, it makes it clear that people don’t think much of tax collectors. Nor do the Pharisees—a group of religious devotees who pursue righteous behavior with legalistic fervor. (Jesus often criticizes Pharisees for not seeing what God’s doing.)
Jesus, while making a point that the people society looks down upon will have their place in heaven—ahead of the religious elite—uses the phrase “tax collectors and prostitutes.” That’s another disparaging pairing of two less-than-honorable professions. Last, in one of Jesus’s parables, he lumps tax collectors in with thieves, evil people, and adulterers.
Matthew’s occupation certainly carries a stigma. From a human standpoint we wouldn’t want someone like Matthew on our team, but Jesus has a different perspective. He wants someone like Matthew on his squad. Jesus invites Matthew to be part of his posse.
When Jesus invites Matthew to “follow me,” Matthew does so right away.
Then Jesus parties with Matthew and his friends—other tax collectors and “sinners.” The religious leaders, of course, criticize Jesus for who he’s hanging out with. But these people are exactly who Jesus wants to be with. By making Matthew part of his team he gives us a fresh perspective of who’s in and who’s out in his kingdom. Most people believe that Matthew later wrote a biography of Jesus, which we call the book of Matthew.
We all have a past. Do we let our past define us or do we accept God’s mercy and move into something greater?
Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.