I leave my beautiful house, wearing my fine clothes, step into the dusty street, and it begins again.
People see me coming and scurry to the other side. It is always like this. At synagogue, they wrinkle their nose and shuffle away. At the market, they raise my price and shorten my portion.
I am like a leper, but worse, because they have pity for lepers. I am like a prostitute, but worse, because I have no beauty.
I am like a Roman, but worse, because I chose to be like this. A Roman in a Jew’s body, they call me. A tax collector.
I trudge to my collection booth alone, and something in the air reminds me of an afternoon when I was a boy. I was cleaning a stable as two young women walked past. I smiled at them and waved, but they walked on without even a glance.
My chest ached, and I suddenly knew what it meant to be poor – to be too small to see.
Watching the girls walk away, I swore I would be big someday, and I suppose I am now – big like a bubble is big. Wide, but hollow. I have all the things I wanted. I just can’t remember why I wanted them. I thought money would be enough, but my emptiness consumes me.
It’s not only the warm spring air that unsettles me. There is a teacher nearby who seems to unsettle everyone. The leaders accuse him of blasphemy and worse, but the people hang on his words.
They flock to him in such numbers that even I was able to press into the crowd, unnoticed, and I heard him talk about a lost coin, a lost sheep, and the One who searches for lost things until they are found.
My chest ached as I listened to him, and I ducked my head as a tear ran down my face. I am the lost Jew, and it is too late. No one will search for me.
Well, I open for business, and the workday wears on. Slowly, I fill the tax chest with money, Roman soldiers at my side. The people growl as they toss their coins on my table. A few spit near my feet. My chest aches, but it’s all in a day’s work.
Down the road, there is a shout, a slowly growing roar, and a rising cloud of dust. The soldiers glance at one another and move their hands to their swords, but the crowd that approaches is peaceful. The teacher is here, walking down this very road, and they are following him, raving about a miracle he had just performed.
I stare as he goes by, fascinated, and as he passes my booth, he turns to me and says, “Oh, Matthew! There you are! I’ve been looking for you.”
I blink, unbelieving, as he meets my eye and smiles.
“Come along, my friend,” he nods and waves. “Right now. We have work to do.”
The layers fall away as I gawk at him, dumbfounded. My poverty. My riches. My promise to be someone. My years of being empty and lost, and my longing to be found.
I turn to one of the soldiers, toss him my own bag of money and point to the tax chest. “All yours,” I say, grinning. “I quit.”
At LIFE International, we honor Jesus, who came “to seek and save those who are lost.” And we are all lost. We have all fallen short of what we know to be right, and yet none of us have fallen beyond his reach or beyond his love.
As Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
This story is a dramatization of Matthew’s calling to follow Jesus, recorded in Matthew 9, Mark 2, and Luke 5.