Today we see a familiar image in the Gospel: the tax collector. I don't think many among us are really eager to pay taxes. We might find collecting taxes oppressive. Maybe we think our taxes go to the wrong things. But we have to go a little further with today’s Gospel. You have think about a mix from the government and organized crime. Imagine if the IRS not only collected taxes, but came to your house a beat you up. They would use every technique to get what they want: beat up, steal, make threats and so on. If you would say And you say, “But I already paid my taxes.” They tell you it doesn’t matter. They wanted the taxes and your going to pay it, if you like it or not.
If the IRS would go that far they would even be more disliked then they now already are. They would be seen as licensed crooks. They would be even more be hated and despised then they already are in the eyes of some people. They would be feared and be avoided. But this is very lose to the way tax gathering was done in the time of Christ. The Romans wanted their taxed when they wanted it. And I know that Governments can be bad and even corrupted. But the Romans where much more worse then that. At that time, there were two kinds of tax collectors, the Gabbai and the Mokhes. The Gabbai were general tax collectors. They collected property tax, income tax and the poll tax. They had a poll tax which everybody had to pay whether they worked or not. It was a tax just for being in the Roman empire. The ground tax consisted of one-tenth of all grain grown, and one-fifth of all oil and wine. You could pay this with the grain, oil and wine, or with money. Then there was the income tax, which was one percent. These taxes were set by official assessments, and so there was no much room for the Gabbai tax collectors to take more than what was due them.
The Mokhes, however, collected a duty on imports and exports. They would set up toll booths and could tax almost anybody for anything that moved along the road. It was worse if you had a cart. You had to pay extra for every wheel on the cart. And if the cart was being pulled by animals, that was extra also. The tax collector could tell tax whatever he wanted. And in all of this, there was little governmental control. Only the tax collectors and the government knew what the tax rate was, so the tax collectors could basically charge the people anything they wanted.And on top of this, there were two kinds of Mokhes – the Great Mokhes and the Little Mokhes. A Great Mokhes stayed behind the scenes and hired others – the Little Mokhes – to collect the taxes for him. Zaccheus, was probably a Great Mokhes because Luke 19:2 calls him a chief tax collector. And these Great Mokhes were hated by the Jewish people. But it was the Little Mokhes who were despised the most. They interacted with the people. He was the one people saw and interacted with people. He was the one who set up random toll booths on roads and and charged people anything he wanted. In any culture, such tax gatherers would be despised and hated. But they were hated and despised even more so in Israel. Why?
Because these tax gatherers were considered to be traitors. The Roman government always had a difficult time collecting taxes from the Jewish people, because many of the Jews had no qualms whatsoever about killing a Gentile who wanted to take their money to support the pagan Roman government. All of this brings us to our text today where we encounter a man named Levi. He was a Jewish man who collected taxes for the government using Mafia techniques. Not the kind of guy you want to have around. But Jesus is never held back by an image from someone. He always loves those that are outcast and looked down upon by society. Jesus is out in the town, and he sees a tax collector named Levi. This Levi is most often called Matthew in the Gospels. As Jesus is walking through town, he sees Levi sitting there, at his tax collecting booth, with his body guards on either side of him, and He said to him, “Follow Me.”
But as Levi sat there with his booth, he heard Jesus preach. Tax collectors were not allowed to come into the synagogue to hear the Word of God. Levi was able to hear truths from Jesus that he had never heard before. All his he had been told God would never forgive him. But Jesus taught the exact opposite. Levi kept showing up and it is very likely that Levi’s presence bothered Jesus at all. But it did bothered the crowds. They didn’t like tax collectors. Jesus did not want to ask Levi to stop coming. Instead he asked Levi to become one of his disciples! Wow! Gods ways are incomprehensible. There are people who think they have made too many mistakes to have Jesus notice them, or care about them. But Jesus doesn’t care that someone is a sinner. He just wants everyone to be close to him.
We need to associate with Jesus. And more important, let’s make sure that we associate with the people that Jesus would associate with. He loved to spend time with people that society and “religious” people rejected. Ask yourself, “Who is am I, or my Church rejecting and how can you show Christ’s love to them?” We also should not wait until people come to Church. We need to be a Church without walls and go to the people in need. That is what Jesus did. If we are Christ’s followers, we will do the same thing. Christ is teaching us how to be fishers of men. But in order to become fishers of men we have to follow him all the way. Let us pray that we become such tools in the hands of the Lord. Amen.