“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” (Matt 9:9).

Kirk B.R. Woller as Gaius and Paras Patel as Matthew in “The Chosen.” © 2019. All rights reserved.

“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” (Matt 9:9, NIV).[1] Not unlike accounts of Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew’s response to Jesus’ invitation is recorded as being instantaneous. What is more, whereas the other four disciples are depicted as simple fishermen in trade, Matthew walks away from a presumably lucrative, while traditionally dishonest, livelihood. Matthew is first introduced in Capernaum in his tax booth on the main highway collecting duties on imported goods. Under the Roman system, tax collectors paid the taxes levied in advance, and then they made a business out of collecting from the citizens and travelers to reimburse themselves and make a profit. Widely regarded as collaborators, tax collectors were notoriously corrupt, extorting far and above what was owed. Therefore, Jesus choosing Matthew is scandalous, even offensive, since tax collectors are widely despised, yet Jesus calls this sinner among sinners, or “Jews who had made themselves as Gentiles.”[2] Yet as with Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew’s life radically changes.

Traveling near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gathers some of His disciples on a mountainside, perhaps a large hill, while the crowds listen from below. Jesus’ teaching here becomes known as the Sermon on the Mount and comprises chapters five through seven of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus begins by teaching a series of blessings, or Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12), which Jimmie Nelson describes as attitudes characteristic of a follower of Jesus. Moreover, these Beatitudes are in opposition to the pattern of behavior exhibited by the scribes and Pharisees, whose practice of piety and interpretation of God’s law, according to Nelson, was primarily for personal benefit.[3] Jesus brings the true values of the Kingdom of heaven to His disciples as well as to the broader audience believed to be listening from a distance, which is in contrast to the Pharisees and teachers of the law whom Jesus accuses of nullifying the commands of God to observe their human traditions (Matt 15:6).

Jesus also brings God to His followers in an intimate way through teaching on how to pray where, according to Matthew, Jesus again contrasts Kingdom values with the ways of the religious leaders of the day: 

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:5-8).   

Jesus’ teaching is especially personal, because in verses five and seven, the Greek pronoun translated “you” is plural, but in verse six, in order to stress private communion with God, Jesus switches “you” to singular.[4] Therefore, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ invitation to each one of us. Take the Lord’s Prayer, for example, Matthew further demonstrates Jesus’ role as personal Savior by teaching His followers to address God as “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6:9); that their Father knows what they need even before they ask Him (Matt 6:8).

Matthew builds on the theme of intimacy and communion with God by presenting a Messiah who extends personal access to God: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33), and “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt 7:7-8). Nelson states that overcoming the attitudes contrary to God is accomplished by “asking” and “seeking” and “knocking.” Because all things are possible with God (Matt 19:26), the discipline of prayer grants the Kingdom citizen access to the “good gifts” of the heavenly Father.[5]

In his account of Jesus coming down from the mountainside, Matthew includes Jesus’ interaction with a Roman Centurion whose faith amazes Jesus, and the Lord heals the officer’s paralyzed servant; one of the many Gentile encounters the disciple records. By contrasting the unfaithfulness Jesus encountered among the Jews, Matthew reveals that Gentiles too “will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 8:11). Matthew ends the account, “Then Jesus says to the centurion, ‘Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that moment” (Matt 8:13). The officer’s encounter presents Matthew an opportunity to demonstrate that those whom seek God, do find Him. Jesus is saying to us, “Follow me.”

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New International Version.

[2] John R. Donahue, “Tax collectors and sinners an attempt at identification,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 33 no 1 (January 1971), 39.

[3] Jimmie L. Nelson, “Preaching Values in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7),” Southwestern Journal of Theology, 35 no 1 (Fall 1992), 29.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (NT), (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 1135.

[5] Nelson, 32.

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