Jesus asked Matthew to be a disciple.
Just how countercultural was this? It was the complete opposite of how discipleship worked.
To start with, Jesus had no business being a rabbi. He didn’t apprentice under another rabbi. And, even if he had, Nazareth was not a respectable center for religious teachings. In fact, it was just the opposite. Nazareth was barely a village consisting of those working daily to eek out a living.
Furthermore, rabbis didn’t solicit followers. Instead, they accepted applications from would-be disciples and chose the most promising and prestigious ones to apprentice. Prestige in the case of an apprentice meant that they came from a family of priests — the more prominent the priesthood, the more prestige the apprentice brought to the rabbi.
It’s no wonder the Pharisees failed to see and recognize God, who came to them from a place of humility. Jesus shunned the system. He was not from the religious establishment and He picked the lowest to be disciples. And, He told a tax collector, someone in such low regard they are identified in the same company as sinners, to follow Him.
At the same time, we should also acknowledge Matthew for accepting the call to follow Jesus. As isolated and despised as he was, Matthew knew that saying “yes” meant that he’d also be mocked and abandoned by his fellow tax-collecting friends — the only ones he had.
By following Jesus, Matthew was giving up on the only life left to him in Jewish culture. If this discipleship thing didn’t pan out, there was nothing left for him. There would be no return to tax collecting and returning to Jewish society was already out of the question.
But who hasn’t felt as Matthew must have? Lonely. Isolated. Feeling ashamed and far from God.
Yet, He has a track record of picking the least of us to be His messenger. Jesus pursued Matthew, the sinner, so that he could be a disciple — and turned him into an evangelist.