Matthew Levi: A Tax Collector

My name is Matthew. My father, Alpheus Levi, and my brothers import many goods for their shop in Jerusalem. A specialty in our family for many generations has been a strong cloth made from long fiber cotton imported from India. Everyone recognizes Levi cotton because of our unique, dark blue dye.

As a young man, I traveled with my father and brothers to Caesarea Maritima, the major port for Judea, to restock our inventory. A Roman official in this grand city, who was aware of the business skills of my family, asked me to be a tax collector for the Roman government. He offered to assign me to the Capernaum area so I wouldn't have to collect from friends and relatives. The tax collectors were allowed to keep five percent as a motivation to insure that no tax went uncollected. However, some publicans were known to demand more than what was due and keep that for themselves as well.

I accepted the job and moved to Capernaum beside the Sea of Galilee. The taxes were easy to collect because of the presence of a Roman army century. However, when I took the job, I hadn't thought about it limiting my circle of friends. As it turned out, the only people who would associate with me were the publicans, for the Jews hated me for taking their hard-earned money and giving it to Rome.

As a boy, I had attended school in the synagogue, where I learned about the history of my people from the Pentateuch and the prophets. Isaiah told of a time coming when the Romans would no longer tax the Jews because the Jewish Messiah would come to rule our part of the world.

Then one Sabbath I was in the synagogue listening to the reading of the scrolls when a new teacher from Nazareth read from Isaiah. I was convinced that His claim of being the Messiah was true. So when He came by my office and said, "Follow Me," I walked away from my good-paying job to become his disciple.

That day I invited all of my friends to a party at my house so they could meet this teacher and His other disciples. When the Pharisees saw Jesus headed toward my house, they asked His disciples, "Why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

When Jesus heard the question, He replied, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do. As for you, I desire mercy on your part rather than sacrifices."

Jesus always spoke in parables. Sometimes He explained the meaning, and sometimes He didn't. He turned to my friends and said, "No one puts new wine into old wineskins, for the new wine will burst the old skins, ruining the skins and spilling the wine."

I didn't understand this saying at first, but it kept replaying itself in my mind. Eventually I came to believe that He meant that His new teachings of grace cannot be contained within the old forms of the law. This saying was only one of the many which He shared with us. I attempted to keep a record of them in my daily log but oftentimes became so busy with the day's affairs that I could only write down a phrase or so to jog my memory later on.

Eventually Jesus chose me to be one of His apostles. I'm not sure why He chose me, but I believe there must have been a very good reason. I thought I understood why He chose Judas. He seemed like the kind of man you could trust. Jesus even let him handle all of the money! But do you know that he was the very one who turned traitor and betrayed Him with a kiss?

My mother kept telling me to write all of this down, but I couldn't see the benefit of a written copy of Jesus' story which might be passed around among a few Jews for awhile then would be lost.

My mother always said, "Of all the Levis, you are the most hardheaded." Now after about twenty years, I have decided to listen to my mother and write down Jesus' story, and I am calling it, "The Gospel According to Matthew."

Based on Matthew 9:9-17; Mark 2:14-22; Luke 5:27-38; John 1:17.

Copyright 1997 by John C. Westervelt

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