“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”
It’s a familiar list of names. It’s a list we have probably heard since days in primary school. It’s a list where a detail may easily pass unnoticed. Matthew mention the occupation of only one of the Twelve – his own, “Matthew the tax collector.”
The reference makes a statement about why Matthew was among the Twelve. It makes a statement about his faith.
Matthew wasn’t attracted by the idea of being religious. There were plenty of religious groups around if he had wanted to be religious. Far from suddenly being a potential convert for the devout Jews, Matthew was despised by them. The Pharisees looked on Matthew as being amongst the worst in their society.
Matthew wasn’t attracted by any material thing that Jesus might have to offer. To start with Jesus had no material wealth to offer anyone, but Matthew wasn’t interested in such things anyway, he had tried money and wealth and he had found they had left his life empty.
Matthew throws over his former life not for religious or material reasons but because he believes that in Jesus he has found true life. He believes that, no matter what might happen to him, there can be nothing in the world more important than following this man from Galilee.
The simplest of decisions, to realize that no matter how much he accumulates, in the end it counts for nothing, in the end his wealth and his power are worthless. The simplest of decisions and also the hardest of decisions. Wealth and success wheedle their way into our affections, they make us believe that they are the most important, that we cannot be happy without them. Matthew realized he had been deceived, money had not bought happiness or love.
Our society is full of people like Matthew, looking for meaning and purpose, and like Matthew they look at the church and see not followers of Jesus, but people who more often resemble the Pharisees with rules and regulations and a suspicion of anyone who does not conform. When it comes to the crunch point in life, rules and regulations are of no more use than money and power. At the sharp moments, the painful moments, the moments when life seems utterly barren and devoid of meaning, the only one who offers anything is the man from Nazareth.
Paul writes that we possess nothing, yet if we have Jesus we have everything. Matthew would have been the most hard-hearted of men, he wants his readers to know that he was a tax collector, and yet he realized all that he had amounted to nothing, so he threw aside his wealth and power in order to have everything.
Anyone who has read this far will have realized that their faith has endured the closure of churches over these past months, that faith does not depend upon religious people or material possessions, it depends upon Jesus.