Monday, March 01, 2010
Background: Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors were employed as contractors by Roman senators. The senators would bid amongst themselves to auction off the rights to collect the taxes from particular territories of the Roman empire. The senator would pay the tax for say, Jerusalem. Then he would collect the tax plus a mark-up. The tax collectors would pay the senators and collect the tax plus the senators fee plus something for themselves. By the time the citizen paid the tax it was much more than what was actually paid to Rome, depending on just how much the senator and the tax collector were trying to extract for themselves. There was a fair amount corruption in the whole system. The Jews considered Rome to be an evil occupying force. Tax collectors were considered just above prostitutes in the social structure. Some (not all) tax collectors were ruthless. Zacchaeus was the tax collector who Jesus found in a tree (because Zacchaeus was short, he climbed up to see Jesus) (Luke 19) along his path and called him down to spend time at his home. Zacchaeus was so moved that he vowed to pay back everyone he had defrauded four-fold and give half of his belongings to the poor. This came AFTER he had been called by Jesus. Salvation came first. Charity and restitution second. Apparently, Matthew felt no such compulsion. Or he simply did not say so. Matthew may have been a relatively honest tax collector. Taking only a reasonable commission. This would not change the fact that Matthew was a sinner in general or mitigate the overall lostness of his soul. God's Word does say that when Matthew was called by Jesus, (Matt 9) Matthew left his previous life behind immediately. Even though Matthew is describing his own experience he writes in the third person, always keeping Christ at the center of the story.