Matthew had known desperation. That day he had been in the public square when Jesus came by. In his presence, he felt like he should hide his face from the teacher and healer of so many. Jesus had been healing and teaching some of the very same people that Matthew had been milking out of even more of their precious little money. He avoided Jesus’ eyes as he came by and his coin-purse felt a little heavier and a little more obvious than usual. It became apparent that Jesus was going to do a miracle and Matthew couldn’t take it anymore. He turned to slip away in the crowd noticing the eyes of his fellow Jews that were glad to see Matthew leave. He was desperate to get away from Jesus before his shame ate him alive. Just as he was about to slip past the edge of the expectant crowd, he heard somebody call his name. He turned around to see Jesus looking at him with a knowing and somehow loving look. He noticed that everybody else was looking at him, too. Jesus said, “Come follow me.” Matthew’s heart could stand it no longer and agreed to give into the shame that broke through to repentance and healing. He walked through the death of his self and found life more abundant on the other side.
Yes, Matthew had known desperation. Jesus had been arrested and beaten severely. He had run like the rest of the twelve. They left their life-giving master so that they might not be expected to give up their lives. They didn’t get it but Jesus forgave them. Matthew had heard and seen parts of the story and knew that Jesus had been crucified and had died. He met with the twelve–at least, most of them–to talk about what had happened and see if there was anything they were planning on doing. In the midst of his own desperation, he began to see what Jesus had been talking about. He started to get the revolution that Jesus was leading and the Kingdom that he had been bringing into the world. He began to see the fruits of repentance and the nature of the already present and still arriving Kingdom. Then, Jesus rose from the dead and it all clicked together. Once again, his life was changed in a desperate moment of calling and hope in the midst of hopelessness.
Matthew had known desperation. But as he hung upside down with the blood rushing to his head, he wasn’t feeling shame or hopelessness. Rather, he was feeling love for those who had tied him to the post and forgiveness for the ruler who had ordered his execution. What did they expect him to do? Be quiet? Surely not after God had dwelled within him at Pentecost and called him to foreign lands to spread the good news that grace and mercy were redeeming the world. He had preached good news and, for its sake and the sake of his Lord, they had condemned him to death. He had brought people into life but those who dwelt in death resented it. As they piled the logs around him and the torches approached, he remembered his Lord forgiving his executioners and prayed for his own approaching murderers. This time, he found truth without the desperation or crisis. So even as the last few grains of his life fell through the hourglass, he understood what Jesus had meant when said, “Come, follow me.” Matthew had followed his Lord by proclaiming a Gospel of life to the dead and healing to the sick.