Choices – The Dust of Death or the Juices of Life. Pick One – Mt 9:9-10
Choices, we make many of them every day often without thinking. I hit Little Caesar’s and pick pepperoni over plain for five bucks. The world doesn’t shift on its axis. But sometimes what seems like a small choice can become huge. My wife and I hike. By hiking, I don’t mean a few laps around a city park for exercise. We’ve hiked up and down most of the mountains in the eastern United States, doing fifty-seven miles in our last vacation and nineteen miles in one day. We don’t talk much on hikes; nature is just too spectacular to miss by chit chatting. But never let the beauty of nature fool us. Nature doesn’t hold one drop of mercy. It demands respect on its own terms and can turn nasty very quickly if it doesn’t get it. Whether we’re climbing, kayaking or canoeing, fishing or hiking – we must play by nature’s rules and there’s no elastic in them at all. Even people experienced in the wilderness who swear on a stack of Bibles that everyone should go by all the procedures, protocols and cautions sometimes bend nature’s rules and pay for it.
Almost two thousand years ago, a guy named Matthew sat at his job not knowing that the end of the day would be different; one choice capped by a decision made in a second would change everything. Matthew collected taxes from his own people, the Jews, for the Romans. This earned him contempt and hatred from his people, disgrace and shame from his family. He did have money as the Romans didn’t care if he skimmed off a little something for himself as long as they got their cut. And his life was in peril every day. A group called the Zealots believed in and sought the violent overthrow of the Roman occupation. Assasinations of low-level traitors were quite common with the Romans looking the other way as long as the Jews killed off their own people. There were always more who would sell out.
How did Matthew get here? Choices. Had he been born into poverty? Poverty in childhood leaves huge marks, both good and bad. Did he see this as his only way out? Was he rebelling against Dad? People make some crazy choices to forcibly break away and tick Dad off in the process. How can I stick the old man? This would do it. Maybe he ran with a rebellious peer group, the cool guys who thumbed their nose at everyone and everything. Roman authorities all over the empire looked for these guys and knew how to play them. Choices, driven by self-centeredness and emotion, some seemingly small and made in an instant, can land us in strange places we never imagined.
What did Matthew have? I mean really? He had money. Money isn’t everything. It’s nice to have to pay for rehab, therapy and other mop-ups of the debris of poor choices. But the rest is just stuff. I know this is a tough sell to college students who accrue student loans and work extra jobs that hinder study time. At a student retreat, I sat picking the brains of a number of students as to what would be good to include for care packages sent to college students from our church. “Blank checks for next semester,” one fired back. Matthew probably had little self-respect. Every day, a stream of people stood in front of him with their eyes saying, “I have to pay you but I don’t have to respect you. You’re filth.” And deep down, Matthew must have felt the pangs of knowing the Romans owned him; he was a dancing bear for “The Man”. Knowing he really was a sellout oozed up through the pavement of all his rationalizations and denials. How about any sense of meaning and/or purpose? Was this it? All there ever would be? Even that wasn’t a big concern as Matthew’s life would not likely go on much longer. Paranoia had to be the cherry capping the sundae because somebody was out to get him.
Enter Jesus. Matthew had to have owned some prior knowledge of Him. Scads of anonymous people passed his door every day. Why jump and leave it all for this one? He certainly had heard things; Jesus had been busy. Miracles of extreme healing and casting out demons. Teaching that blew the socks off rabbinic scholars. Maybe he’d even laid eyes on Jesus from a distance. That might have been as close as Matthew ever thought he’d get. And that’s why Jesus standing in his doorway captured Matthew with two words, “Follow Me.” (v.9) The best spiritual teachers of the day didn’t walk up and down the street saying to complete strangers, “Hey, buddy, you want to study with me?” The students came to them and many were turned away. Now here stood…Him. Now Matthew had an offer to really think about, a choice worth a hard look.
Something important about choices – we can choose any road we want but we cannot choose where the road goes. Where did leaving the tax office take Matthew? He never could have imagined. “A greater story is being told, beyond the things you see and hold. The pictures turn in perfect time…” (from Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow). He would heal the sick, cast out demons, hold a basket of leftovers from Jesus feeding over 5000 people with a kid’s lunch, see hurricane force wind smacked down with a word and see this one saying “Follow me” both crucified and risen from the dead. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13,14) I’m still learning what that choice to follow Jesus means for me so I don’t know what it might mean for you. But, just like with Matthew, He has shown us all enough so that nobody will be able to say they didn’t know (See Romans 1:19,20) And what do we have anyway really worth hanging onto and squatting in our stuff when Jesus stand on the threshold of our life and says “Follow me?”
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