Jesus first called Simon and Andrew, and shortly after James and John. Simon, Andrew, James and John were all fishermen, but Jesus did not only call fishermen. He called another disciple who had followed him across the lake (8:22), and now, after healing the paralytic, Jesus sees another, “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”
Certainly anyone else coming across Matthew in his booth would be hard pressed to even consider extending the offer of discipleship to such an individual. Why would they leave their post for that? “Tax collectors were usually wealthy men, for there was ample scope for profit in their business, so Matthew was probably making a great material sacrifice when he walked out of that office. And the action was final. They would surely never take him back again if he later decided he wanted to return. The fishermen might go back to their fishing, but the tax collector would not be able to return to the levying of customs duties. Anyway, his lucrative post would soon be filled. And if he tried to get another job, who would want to employ a former tax collector? Matthew’s response indicated a thoroughgoing trust in Jesus.”
One might wonder why Matthew would extend such a level of trust to a man he had not met previously, especially when the immediate cost of discipleship was so high. Yet we can never write off someone as ‘unreachable’. Only God knows the background, the current situation and the true condition of the soul.
The other Gospel writers call Matthew, “Levi”, indicating that Matthew probably had a Jewish background. As a Jewish tax collector, Matthew would’ve been a despised individual. He was a traitor to his own people, colluding with the ‘enemy’ to collect taxes for the occupying forces. No doubt his was a lonely job. It is likely that the benefits of a lucrative income could not make up for the internal guilt and societal shame he felt. So when Jesus offers him a new identity as a follower, Matthew takes it.
The fact that no reasonable person would accept such a sudden call tells us that while Christ’s call appears to the reader to be sudden and startling, the call on Matthew’s life did not start with Jesus’ spoken words. Matthew began hearing God’s call when he realized a growing discontentment in his heart. Perhaps that was years and years before he saw Jesus coming toward him on the road. Yet just as with Jesus’ calls to Simon and Andrew, James and John, we see only the result of the verbal ask.
We cannot know who God has been preparing. Jesus called the first four disciples while they were fishing, another who walked to find Him and now this man sitting in a booth. What people are doing when God calls them, their background when God calls them or what is happening in their heart prior to their response is all hidden from our sight. What we see is only the result – a sudden change in behavior, driven by the awareness that God is speaking to them through the words of another.
This is part of the beauty of walking with God. For He brings us into contact with those that He has been preparing. With those He has been speaking to. Not all rush to accept the Good News – some are brought across our path only to hear a witness. For them, the occasion will ultimately be brought up as evidence of their rebellion. But in either case, they are there by God’s providential plan and His Spirit’s working. This we can know.
The providence of God is like a Hebrew word – it can only be read backwards.John Flavel
For the obedient Christ-follower, the question is not, “Where shall we find those God would have us witness to?” God is putting us in front of people He has already prepared. The question is, “What would God have me to say?”