Good Thursday morning! Yo ho, yo ho, it's Tax Day in the land, a chance for all pirates to celebrate the biggest one of them all, our own government. Let's sing a pirate ditty and celebrate Tax Day!
You will probably see several devotions today that speak about our duty to pay taxes and the fact that Jesus chose a despised and hated tax collector to be one of his disciples. We might try to compare Matthew to a CEO today, but I don't think that is quite correct. The tax collectors at the time worked on a sort of commission; they got to keep everything they collected over the amount set by the Romans. Matthew would have been a combination of an IRS tax collector, a Mafia strong-arm man, and a government contractor of the sort we have heard about in Iraq - overcharging the government and finding ways to lose millions of dollars: Matthew was scum. Matthew was also worse than all of that because he was supposed to be one of us, so to speak.
The Jewish tax collectors worked for the Romans and against their own people. Imagine that your neighbor is a tax collector, not for our government, but for an occupying power. As you plant your garden for the year, he is over there with his Ipad calculating how much you spent on mulch, seed, fertilizer, water, et al., and adding that to all the other things he knows about you. That time you told your other neighbor a little too loudly about your promotion at work is figured into his profile of you. And just when you think you're not doing too badly this year, April 15th arrives and that tax-collecting neighbor presents you with a tax bill.
You have some idea what the Roman government demanded of him, but your bill seems a bit unfair. All of the other neighbors say the same thing... and then as you all line up to pay, prodded by the thought of Roman spears poking your kidneys perhaps, you notice the swimming pool going in the backyard and that expensive contractor with the TV show coming in the side door of that neighbor's house. But it gets worse, the other neighbor down the block, the one right beside the tax collector is moving out under the gentle care of a squad of Roman soldiers. You see, his tax bill was so steep that he could not pay.
A week later, you all watch as the tax-collecting scum tears down his other neighbor's house to add a monstrous addition to his own. It seems that all of you now live and pay taxes to a mansion in your own neighborhood. At the grand opening of this new mansion, the Roman swells and the town mayor all arrive for the party, but no one from the neighborhood is invited. You do get to watch however as all the most expensive party favors, both human and consumable, arrive at the back door. What will your tax bill be like next year; heck, will he even wait for next year to hit you with another bill?
Tax collectors back in the day were not well thought of. Not only did Jesus choose one of them to be a part of his group, but he told them to pay Caesar his due, that is pay your taxes. I'm sure that more than a few of the Jews thought that what Caesar was "due" would be something non-monetary and quite painful if carried out. However, Jesus addressed that kind of thought too. Who helped record the words of Jesus regarding how we should treat our neighbors, no matter what they might do for a living? Matthew, that despised former tax collector.
We have to wonder how Matthew felt while writing down the Sermon on the Mount. No doubt he burned with shame at some of it while thinking back to his former life. Perhaps the assignment was something like Peter's little talk with Jesus after the resurrection. To make up for his former life, Matthew was assigned to write down every word of the greatest sermon on ethics ever told. We don't know for sure what Matthew thought or if the writing of his gospel had anything to do with making up for his former life. Once again, it is interesting how God uses people in a way that sometimes makes up for their former life. Saul/Paul is of course the primary example of that... or is he? Maybe I am, maybe you are, the best example of the changed life that Jesus brings might even be our own.
Have a happy Tax Day, I guess...