Today’s Reading: Matthew 10
I want to tell you the history of two groups of people who are in the New Testament—the tax collectors and the zealots. The tax collectors were Jews who collected taxes from fellow Jews for the Roman Empire. They made their living by charging an extra amount on top of what everyone owed. Some of them made more than a living. They exacted any amount they could and became well to do. The Jews considered tax collectors to be traitors, because they “stole” money; they became wealthy by collaborating with Roman authorities at the expense of their own people. And their own people hated them.
The Zealots strongly believed that the Romans should not rule their land— and they confronted any opposition directly, even considering violence an appropriate response. Within the Zealots were a subgroup called the Sicarii, or “dagger men.” Sicarii were a group of rebels, most widely known today as the group who fought against the Roman authorities and took Masada, Herod’s famous fortress in the desert. Today we would call them first-century terrorists. They murdered in the name of religion. And they hated traitors— more specifically, tax collectors.
Zealots were the terrorists. Tax collectors were the traitors. Put those two together, and it isn’t going to be good. Call 911.
And that’s where we find ourselves in today’s reading:
“Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them.” (Matthew 10:1-5, emphasis added)
Think about that. Jesus put a zealot and a tax collector close to each other as His disciples. Out of the twelve disciples, two of them were sworn enemies of each other: Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector. Matthew 10 even labels them for us, so we know of the potential conflict. And Jesus specifically called each of them to follow Him and to work and live together. It wasn’t an accident or a mistake. He did that on purpose!
What does that have to do with you and me? Our tendency is to hang out with people we like and who are like us. Think about your church. If you choose a church based upon the people whom you have stuff in common with, then you want a club not a church.
What I love about Jesus’ disciple list is that it doesn’t say, “Peter, a fisherman; John, a fisherman; Simon, a fisherman . . .” Their descriptions show us that Jesus chose people who couldn’t be more opposite.
God can put you with people who irritate you. That is how sandpaper works. You get rubbed so the rough edges come off of you, you can be smooth, and you become more like Christ.
You don’t grow by being with people who are just like you. (You become boring but you don’t grow.) Oswald Chambers explained it this way: “God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with. If God would only use His own fingers and make us wine. But when He uses someone whom we dislike, and makes those the crushers . . . we object.”
God may have put the tax collector with the zealot in your church. Why? Because this is a church, not a club. Because the church is about making people become more like Christ. It represents Jesus’ loves and not your likes. And He loves everyone—even the people you might think are the worst.
So the next time your zealot nature sits next to an irritating tax collector, think about how Jesus may have placed that person in your life to make you a stronger Christian. Or put another way, when your “I was raised in a Christian home all my life” sits next to a brand new saved person who smells like his struggle, don’t think, That person bothers me. Think, That person sanctifies me.
Then rejoice over the fact that God is using you to sanctify somebody else.