By Arlene Graber
Capernaum was a flurry of activity. The city, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, was a major trade center for merchants from Syria, Caesarea, and Egypt, and all who traveled through the crossroads from those regions had to pay custom taxes.
Called by Christ
Matthew sat in a booth in the center of the activity, collecting money from the crowd. Snide glances darted his way. No one liked him. After all, he was a Jew taxing his fellow Jews, who were already bitter from being governed by the Romans.
More than likely, Matthew’s powerful and lucrative position allowed him to buy anything he wanted. And his wealth provided monetary security for old age.
This day was like all days for Matthew. Merchants ignored his request to line up in single file. Across the way, buyers and sellers frantically pushed and shoved to get the best bargain available for goods. Loud voices pierced the air dispelling any hope of tranquility.
We can only imagine how Matthew must have sighed and rubbed his temples. Why couldn’t these folks do business in a more gentle way? And why did he have to take their verbal abuse? Nothing like an unhappy merchant grumbling about taxes.
In the distance he could see fisherman enjoying a quiet existence on the Sea of Galilee, apart from the hassles and trauma of the marketplace. No stress there. One had merely to enjoy the tropical climate and rolling blue waters of the sea.
Perhaps Matthew thought about building a fishery, but then, glancing at the pile of money on the table, the idea disappeared. Once he took his cut—well, he could never make this much as a fisherman. Scooping up the tax money, Matthew was unaware that his situation would soon change and he would become respected, accepted, and rich in quite another way.
Questioned by Critics
Matthew’s gaze rested on a man strolling quietly through the square. An aura of calm surrounded him and Matthew welcomed the change. The man came closer, walked by Matthew’s money table, and stopped. Perhaps there might have been small talk. “How’s business? Glorious day, isn’t it?” Perhaps not. We don’t know. What is documented is that Jesus looked at Matthew and said two words: ”Follow me” (Matthew 9:9). In an instant, those two words changed Matthew’s life forever. Matthew simply “got up and followed him.”
Certainly some of the onlookers must have scoffed and ridiculed. Was Matthew crazy to leave a lucrative position to become a disciple without a paycheck? How would he support himself? What about the future? The gold, expensive oils, and garments would be things of the past.
Matthew not only followed Jesus, he was so thrilled about the invitation that he invited Jesus to dinner—along with a number of tax collectors and sinners. Imagine how impressed Matthew must have been at the turnout.
Then imagine how critical Jesus’ other disciples might have been at this selection. Why would he choose someone so disliked and distrusted in the community? Why this man, who worked for the Roman rulers when the Jews wanted to have their own ruler?
And then there were the Pharisees. When they saw what was taking place, “they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (v. 11).
Jesus heard the question and responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . . For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12, 13).
And so it began. Matthew, drawn to the Son of God, left a life of riches to become one of Jesus’ chosen disciples.
Leaving a Record
Matthew knew something about recording details. Most likely he’d had years of experience logging taxes and keeping meticulous records. He doesn’t appear to have had Simon Peter’s knack for leadership, or Thomas’s caution, or even Judas’s misguided penchant to take matters into his own hands.
Instead, Matthew seems to have settled into the background, observing each wonder of Jesus. I picture him listening and quietly recording his life with Jesus, detailing each day’s happenings. He watched as Jesus never missed an opportunity to preach no matter where it was. He soaked in his teachings. He witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles personally and was present when the Lord ascended into Heaven (28:16-20). His experiences with Jesus provided much of the background of the first book of the New Testament, giving the world a firsthand account of Jesus’ life on earth.
Providing an Example
It’s easy to remain in our comfort zones surrounded by Christians. It’s more challenging to invite non-Christians to go with us to church, never knowing how the invitation will be received. Sometimes we may be tempted to forget or simply dismiss biblical principles when trying to make a living. However, Christians are to regard every venue in our lives as a mission field. Matthew didn’t let his business—as successful as it must have been—get in the way of following Christ.
Neither did Dan Cathy. An avid gardener, athlete, Sunday school teacher, and nearly a professional trumpet player, Cathy leads the Chick-fil-A enterprise with sound biblical principles.
His company adheres to the biblical directive to treat all people with honor, dignity, and respect. “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41). Cathy leads with a servant’s heart and a desire to provide each customer with a positive experience. Chick-fil-A employees are taught to give customers “Second-Mile Service”—small things like helping carry trays for customers and connecting with them in cheerful personal conversation while they wait in line to be served.
The Chick-fil-A chain remains closed on Sundays, placing spiritual principles over material wealth. Closing the restaurants on Sundays gives all their employees a chance to attend church if they choose. There is little doubt that the company would increase its profits significantly if it opened its stores on Sundays. But profits aren’t all that matter.
Cathy took a stand in 2012 when the media criticized him for his religious beliefs about same-sex marriage. When asked about his position, he responded, “Guilty as charged.” Cathy stood on the Word of God and provided a powerful testimony of his faith to millions.
Little is documented about Matthew’s later life. Tradition suggests that after witnessing Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, Matthew preached many years in Jerusalem before traveling to the mission fields of Persia and Ethiopia. Historians differ as to how he died, some saying he was martyred in Ethiopia while others believe he died of natural causes.
What we know for sure is that Matthew received a rich reward by giving up material wealth to follow Jesus and spread the message of the gospel.
Matthew reminds us not to put our trust in worldly wealth, and instead to work for something of lasting value. As Winston Churchill observed, “We make a living by what we get: we make a life by what we give.”
Arlene Graber is a freelance writer in Wichita, Kansas.
Crafting Your Testimony
Sharing the before-and-after story of your encounter with Christ is a powerful tool.
Knowing your own story helps you appreciate the work God has done in your life, and it motivates you to help others come to know Christ.
Your story can show others how the truth of the gospel is relevant to their lives, and it shows that transformation is possible through the Holy Spirit.
Think through (or write down) your story, and be prepared to share it with others, briefly or at length.
Before: What was your life like before Christ? What were you depending on to give your life meaning and hope?
During: How did you first encounter Jesus? What event or people showed you the futility of the way were living? What decisions did you have to make about who you were and how you were living?
After: How is your life different now? What has God added to your life? What has he taken away?