Fr Abi John
Beloved in Christ,
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It gives me great pleasure to share the following bible study notes for your thoughts and reflections. I would appreciate your reflections, additions, questions, comments, etc, in a couple of lines to add more color to our study.
Who are tax collectors during Jesus' time?
During the time of Jesus, the people of Israel were under the imperial and colonial rule of Rome. The religious leaders had their local autonomy in matters relating to the life of the people. The temple was at their control and the temple was not just a spiritual institution but it was the center of people’s holistic life. The subjects of the society were under two authorities, politically under Rome and religiously under Sanhedrin. Rome gave autonomy to the religious leaders to mitigate the revolts, because the religious beliefs were so sensitive and complex. In such a context Rome appointed some people to collect the taxes for their government and such collectors were called publicans or apostates. They were considered as proxies of Rome and gained hatred from the public. They imposed unredeemable taxes and had their loyalty to the Roman Imperials and gained more profit by unjustifiable taxes. They were seen as traitors and thieves of people and considered as defiled elements because of their association with the enemy, the Rome. The hostility over Tax collectors tagged them as Sinners. Here the tax collector was none other than Mathew, and the record from Mathew 9:9 substantiates the argument. Normally Jews will have two names and many theologians suggest the name
as Levi Mathew, who became the disciple of Jesus.
I see these booths as the places that symbolically represent oppression and exploitation. People were under great oppression because the Roman government operated in a very systematic way at various levels to maintain their supremacy over the poor. Jews always believed in the rule of God- Theocracy. In reality their dreams were shattered by the foreign powers because of their military inefficiency and their ideological schisms. Rome was a superpower and these centers represented their authority over people, their work and earnings. People were drained by the taxes which made their life more miserable. The Taxes were collected in harsh methods. The people paid money to Temple to maintain their religious commitments and paid compulsory taxes, for their income and taxes were imposed on Custom goods. Even tolls were collected for the usage of Roads and bridges of that time. So, the people who indulged in such tax collections were socially abandoned by people, politically treated as traitors and religiously labelled as sinners. Mathew was sitting in that Booth to collect the taxes. But Jesus liberated him from his box and made him an agency of salvation, I mean an agent to liberate people from these worldly clutches that haunt life every day. We have to find such boxes and breach the forces that negate the freedom for us and others.
Jesus said to Mathew “Follow me.” And he followed him without any question. The unconditional obedience of Mathew describes his agony over his work as well as his dissatisfaction over the colonial set up. His attitude highlights the aspiration to repent and begin a new life in God by following Christ. His immediate response explicits his search for a better way of life. Following Jesus is an opposite turn from the job he was assigned in. Jesus' movement offered abundance of life and catered to the exploited and the oppressed. It connected people socially and enabled them to realize the reign of God. The politics of power was defused by the power of Love for one another. Mathew believed in the words of Jesus which enabled him to envision the future. Apparently, the transition of Mathew to Jesus indicates a mystic and divine experience which cannot be comprehended in total, but it can be felt at a spiritual domain. Following Jesus is not simple, it requires one to turn from the world and prepares him/her to be an agency of Christ to offer life to the people in the world. It demands us to offer life to the lifeless not to overfeed the self-righteous or the privileged. Mathew left his lucrative employment, positions and his authority for Jesus because he affirmed the truth and chose the way of Christ, which calls our attention not to deepen our parochial attachments but to reach the reality of life and to enhance every human to have equal access over life. The disparities in life distribute ordeal situations and cause civic unrest. The movement of Jesus is the movement of Love engendering all of us for peaceful coexistence and sustainable living.
Jesus - “Friend of Sinners and Tax collectors?”
Jesus extends his relationship to all and specially to transform the people who are socially rejected, politically muted, and spiritually decodified. Jesus ethics includes everyone and attends to the odds of the society with a moral appeal and not by force. Religion should be a moral obligation if not then it becomes another institution to display power to dictate. But the religion of the Pharisees was so complaining and judgmental. The Jesus Movement was very optimistic and open. Religion of Jesus displays its roots in Love for others like self, which expresses the Love of God in total. Jesus indicates that “only the sick need the physician”, conveys, the mission of the church should always focus for the needy not the greedy. (The free Wifi at St. James’ and Barnie Parker Sharing food Shed at St. John’s are some of our novel expressions of doing missions at this COVID-19 crisis. I would continue to urge you to contribute to such noble acts.)
If we want Jesus to be our Friend, we need to be friends of the lifeless, and to have a heart to offer them the love of Christ. God’s abundance of life is not for a few but for everyone because it's an overflowing cup of Grace. Grace is a quality of being qualified not by our own merits but by God’s favor. Let us look unto God and follow Christ to be graceful to everyone. Let us continue to listen to God's voice and God’s call and follow God in Christ and that will suffice a good portion in our life. May God Bless these words.