Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 3rd grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group and a men’s group, and serves on the Group Life Curriculum review team.
While we’ve been plotting excursions for the boys to have some grandparent-time this summer, I recalled my summer sojourns to my Grandparent’s home in Admire, Kansas sitting on their huge screened-in porch eating lunch while listening to Paul Harvey.
One of my favorite segments was Paul Harvey’s “Rest of the Story.” He’d share a look at someone’s life and reveal the identity at the end of the broadcast. After reading today’s passage, I wonder how he might tell Matthew’s story:
Hello, Americans. You know what the news is. In a minute you are going to hear the rest of the story. Around 2,000 years ago, there was a young man named, Levi, who was born into a Jewish family in the rural region near Galilee. At some point Levi made the controversial choice to become an official tax collector for the Roman Empire.
For those of Jewish heritage, this was a particularly loathed profession. Rome put out the job of tax collector for bid and a man would bid how much he would pay Rome for his contracted region. Any excess cash above that bid would be his to keep. The tax laws were extensive and complicated. There was a land tax, a head tax, and a customs tax for goods being transported on Roman roads. Further, since a tax collector had the threat of Rome to back him, he could be tempted to bump a rate from 2% to 5% on the produce or fish you were taking to market. There was zero protection against this extortion. There is no record that Levi behaved in this manner, but just the stereotype was enough for the Jews to deem him (and all tax collectors) as traitorous thieves.
We don’t know why Levi would choose such path. Maybe he was overly enamored with wealth and possessions. Perhaps Levi felt oppressed by his friends and family, and wanted to mark a dramatic new course for his life. Maybe he was lured by the power and prestige of the Roman Empire and thought this would gain him acceptance and respect. Or possibly Levi was angry with God and wanted to lash back at Him and His chosen people.
Regardless, we can infer that at some point Levi regretfully realized he had made a foolish decision. His family would have been ashamed of him and all contact, if any, strained and distant. His childhood buddies shunned him. That nice Jewish girl with whom he had secretly hoped to have an arranged marriage was definitely out of the picture now. The Romans, glad to have Levi do their dirty work, looked down upon him because he had been shown to be a man who easily sold out. The only people who hung around Levi were people who were attracted to him because of his money (like fellow tax collectors, prostitutes, and petty thieves). The Jewish leaders wouldn’t even allow Levi past the Gentile Court into the Temple to worship God, effectively shutting him off from communing with God.
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Page 2. Then one day as Levi was at his booth along the roadside collecting the custom taxes, a Jewish rabbi named Jesus came up to Levi, looked him in the eye, and said, “Come.” Levi was flabbergasted. Rarely did anyone let his eyes meet his. They usually just looked away to avoid being singled out for harassment. It had been years since anyone had invited him to anything. He didn’t know what to say. Then the Rabbi said, “Follow me.”
Levi’s heart leapt. For the first time he saw a path out of his chosen predicament. He wasn’t locked into a forever-fate of isolation & despair. There was a second chance. There was hope. There was life. He was free. Levi got up and walked away from his booth.
Page 3. Levi became one of Christ’s original 12 Disciples. He didn’t forget those who weren’t people of prestige and popularity. He would host a party so they, too, might meet Jesus and experience the incredible freedom of forgiveness and acceptance. He wrote a Gospel specifically geared to helping his old friends and family of Jewish heritage to understand exactly who was this man named Jesus. Legend says he would later be martyred for his faith in Christ.
You might know Levi by his new name in faith, Matthew. Who would have ever believed that a man who was once such a social pariah would come to be known by a name that means “Gift of God?” And now you know the rest of the story. Good day. (Good day, indeed!)