Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at the Vibe, West, and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.
In America, non-profit organizations qualify for a tax-exempt status as an incentive to further work for the greater good. Churches are non-profit organizations, so this means that more of the money donated to them can go toward helping people. This has been the case for churches in America since 1894.
But there’s a growing movement to remove the tax-exempt status from churches. Some believe that this constitutes preferential treatment and violates the separation of church and state. Others believe that churches do little to actually help society and should pay taxes like other businesses in America.
Now it’s time for an exercise in imagination. Let’s imagine that they succeeded in doing that. Churches must now pay taxes on the money they collect from offerings and donations, taking money away from other ministries. But now, let’s take it a step further: imagine that, in addition to removing that tax-exempt status, they impose fines on churches that do not meet certain criteria set by the government. Some churches are able to jump through the legal hoops, but others are hit so hard that they have to drastically cut salaries and expenses. Eventually, church staff members leave to find other jobs and some of those churches shut down.
As someone who is really involved in church, this sounds terrifying. It stirs up plenty of anger as well. The reason I bring this up is not to get into any political arguments, though. I bring this up because that’s the best modern-day comparison I can think of for the tax collectors in Jesus’s time. When we read about Jesus inviting tax collectors to eat with him, imagine a pastor throwing a party with the politicians from our imaginary exercise above just because they like hanging out.
Now imagine that this pastor, who’s been doing some teaching but has never been to seminary, is starting up a church and asks one of these politicians to be on the leadership board. That should give you some idea of the feelings going around when Jesus recruited Matthew the tax collector to be one of his twelve apostles.
Got that context? Alright. Well, the thing to remember here is that Matthew had grown up with faith. But somewhere along the line, his job and his church community came into conflict. He soon found himself unwelcome in the churches that fed his soul. And it may be easy to think that someone like Matthew turned his back on the church, but it’s very possible that that’s a choice he never wanted to make. It’s possible that the church made that choice for him. And it’s very clear from Matthew’s reaction to Jesus that religion wasn’t something he was willing to give up on, even though it had given up on him.
So think now of the people who are unwelcome in our churches. It can be easy to think of people whom other people would shun, but it’s more important to look at who you yourself would not welcome into a church. It might be divorced people. It might be people who don’t give to the causes you’re most passionate about. It might be gay people. It might be wealthy business people who act in their own self-interest without any concern for the less fortunate. It might be people who worship in a different way than us. If we’re honest, we all have at least one thing we think doesn’t belong in our churches.
So here’s the challenge: what would it take for you to invite someone like this to church, not because these people need church, but because the church needs these people? What would it take for you to invite someone like this in with the earnest intent of learning something from them, not proselytizing them?
If you’ve never thought along these lines before, it’s probably terrifying; but this is the example that Jesus set for us. In picking the twelve people most important to his work, he picked one of “those people.” Jesus probably picked Matthew for a number of reasons, but one of those is so that we would continue to make choices like that years later. If God’s example is to pick one of “those people,” who would you pick?
Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.