All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed Jesus.
- Mark 2:13-14
Today we read about the call of St. Matthew, also called Levi, to follow Jesus and become an apostle. Matthew is unique among the apostles in that, before he left everything to follow Jesus, he was a tax collector. To understand why this is important requires some understanding of life in Palestine under the Roman Emperor. Just as we do today, people who lived in the Roman Empire had to pay taxes to pay for the costs associated with governing. However, unlike today when we have electronic transfers and checking accounts to handle payment of taxes, the Romans used individual tax collectors in each community to ensure that the correct taxes were collected. With most of the population have only a very basic education, tax collectors were free to abuse the system and purposely collect more taxes than were required and keep the rest as a bonus. In addition, tax collectors represented Roman authority at a time when many Jewish people thought they should have their own independent kingdom. Thus, tax collectors were one of the most hated groups Palestine.
There is an important lesson here for all of us. It is not just Matthew who Jesus has called to follow Him. Jesus has called each and every one of us to follow Him, regardless of our faults and failings. Just as Jesus was able to take a lowly tax collector and create a great Apostle and Evangelist, Jesus is able to do great things with us as well. No matter how disconnected and alone you feel, no matter how many times other people try to put you down, it is important to remember that Jesus loves you and wants to do great things with your life. All you have to do is get up and follow Him.