Jan Sanders van Hemessen – Jesus Summons Matthew-1536,Germany.

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

Capernaum had just one word on its lips – Jesus. There was no nook or cranny that did not know or speak about Him. Jesus had made this town His home and that’s not all! He had already worked more than twelve miracles here, and many were hailing Him as the Messiah.

Capernaum was a small town but not a sleepy one. You can’t be inactive when you’re situated on one of the most popular Roman highways. The Via Maris or the way of the sea was the most ancient trade route, dating from the early Bronze Age, linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria.

The fact that this was a trade route could mean only one thing – there were tax collectors. No one disliked these tax collectors more than the Jews did. So you can quite imagine Alpheus’ disappointment when Matthew, his son, chose this as a career. It seemed fast money was the order of the day and  the traditional occupations of Capernaum seemed to hold no charm.

Why could Matthew not be like Simon, Andrew, James or John? What was so wrong in honest living even if you smelled of fish the whole day? Matthew’s professional choice only added to the greying hair of Alpheus, to say nothing of the insults that he had to face.

Alpheus’ mind recalled that day when Matthew was to be named. Alpheus could only think of how blessed he was to have this child after so many years of waiting. His name would be called Mattityahu, a gift of Yahweh. But now this ‘gift’ seemed to become a liability. Alpheus could not even get his friends to enjoy his hospitality, for who would sit with Matthew’s new found tax collector friends?

Matthew had his tax booth on the main highway and collected duties on imported goods brought by farmers, merchants and caravans. Rome demanded a fixed amount to be paid by the tax collectors in advance. Rome was not concerned as to how the tax collectors recovered their money; that was their business. Matthew and his colleagues loved this system, for now they could collect not only what they paid for, but determine the profits they desired. No one dared question a tax collector, for their decisions were enforced by Roman soldiers.

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