As Jesus was walking along, he saw Matthew sitting at the tax booth and said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. – Matthew 9:9 (NRSV)
Tax collectors of biblical times were more despised than drug dealers are today. At least some people actually want to do business with drug dealers.
Tax collectors were local Hebrews hired to extract money from other Hebrews to fund the brutally oppressive activities of their Roman overlords. They collected hard-earned money to support people no one wanted around.
Worse, tax collectors demanded payments in excess of what Rome required, making themselves stinking rich. Next to a tax collector, most anyone could feel better about themselves.
And yet, Jesus hung out with them, ate with them, invited one of them to be his disciple. When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, Matthew was sitting in the tax booth, caught in the act of his dastardly dealings, with no time to “get right with God” first.
Likewise, Jesus won’t wait for you to be perfect before calling you to follow him. Not even Jesus has that much time. In fact, it would be just like Jesus to call when you are caught red-handed, when you are doing your worst, when you don’t have time to clean up your act, when you feel totally unfit and undeserving. That’s when grace prefers to make her move.
Gracious God, thank you for a gospel designed especially for screw-ups, scumbags, and sell-outs – for people just like me. Thank you that Jesus did not call the righteous, but sinners. Otherwise, I would never make it.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.