Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Apostles: The Taxman Comes to Christ ~ Matthew

The Calling of Saint Matthew - Caravaggio   Matthew 9:9
There he was with the other publicans, making his profit.   His parents were very religious people.  It may have troubled them that he chose this despicable profession.

Levi was a Jew essentially collecting taxes for the Romans, working for Herod Antipas, who was the tetrarch of  Galilee.

When Christ came to Capernaum, He saw Levi.   And Levi saw Him. 
27 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.

When Christ approached him, he literally "arose and followed Him".  
(Mark 2:13)
And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.

Mark and Luke both used his birth name of Levi.  When Matthew became a disciple, he was renamed by Christ, as were all twelve.

When Christ spoke those commanding words to Levi, "Follow me", did he hesitate?

Scripture tells us, he arose and followed Him.  Not only did he follow him literally, he invited Christ to his home.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed Him.
16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 And when Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew wrote Christ's teachings of The Great Day of Hiring parable, which is not in the other gospels.

The elements of this parable correspond to the agriculture and enterprises of Jewish vine-growers in that time.

A proprietor having vast land for vineyards would need many laborers; he would not be concerned with expense to hire workers for the evening.  The laborers in the vineyards during those times were working at all hours of the day, and there was always work in a vast land such as this landowner had.

He paid his workers very well: those working in the morning agreed to accept the wage of a denarius, a normal wage for the day.  Others worked without bargaining for their wages.

The last to come are paid in the presence of all the rest of the workers, and this was intentional so that everyone witnessed the Master's loyalty and fairness.

He made it clear to those who were tempted to think themselves more worthy than others, for being envious of their coworkers, and that they had no reason to speak against him.

So, then, this entire parable, you may think, is about hiring and wages.

Matthew grasped the importance of what Christ taught His disciples ~ Christ spoke more about money than He did about hell.  And who among the four evangelists knew more about money? Matthew.

You may think, then, that this parable is about The Kingdom of Heaven.  It is ~ and more.

If we see through the eyes of Matthew, what he wrote as Christ taught, we will understand that the denarius is eternal life.  Matthew realized that the eleventh hour of hiring is the essence of Christ.
He recruits sinners at the eleventh hour.  All fortunate individuals at the end of the day have this opportunity, the miraculous moment of accepting His offer.  From the first to the last, all who have been called, and who respond to His call, will be given the day's wage.

Matthew has captured, in Christ's teaching, the theology of Grace.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 
 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 
And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,  
and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’  
So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.  
And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 
They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’  
And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’  
And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.  
10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.  
11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 
12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  
13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  
14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  
15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
16 So the last will be first, and the first last: for many will be called, but few chosen."
Matthew 20:1-16
Matthew the elder

"There is hope for old sinners; for if, in sincerity, they turn to God, they shall doubtless be accepted; true repentance is never too late. There is hope of old sinners, that they may be brought to true repentance; nothing is too hard for Almighty grace to do. not as wages for the value of their work, but as the gift of God. Though there be degrees of glory in heaven, yet it will be to all a complete happiness. They that come from the east and west, and so come in late, that are picked up out of the highways and the hedges, shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the same feast. In heaven, every vessel will be full, brimful, though every vessel is not alike large and capacious. In the distribution of future joys, as it was in the gathering of the manna, he that shall gather much, will have nothing over, and he that shall gather little, will have no lack. Those whom Christ fed miraculously, though of different sizes, men, women, and children, did all eat, and were filled. The giving of a whole day’s wages to those that had not done the tenth part of a day’s work, is designed to show that God distributes his rewards by grace and sovereignty, and not of debt. The best of the labourers, and those that begin soonest, having so many empty spaces in their time, and their works not being filled up before God, may truly be said to labour in the vineyard scarcely one hour of their twelve; but because we are under grace, and not under the law, even such defective services, done in sincerity, shall not only be accepted, but by free grace richly rewardedMatthew Henry

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