The Chosen - Episode 2
The Gospel is not so much an argument to assent to (though there are many arguments one can make for the Gospel); but more than this, the Gospel is a person that you place your confidence in.
Shabbat / Sabbath
In Episode 2, everyone is preparing for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. It’s a time when everyone gathers with their family and they celebrate God’s provision and peace. It’s intriguing how everyone has someone to be with except Matthew.
Peter is deeply in debt and he’s making excuses why he’s not keeping Shabbat. He’s there at the dinner, but he’s not really there. He wants to fish on the Sabbath when no one else is out there so he can get ahead.
Then, there’s Nicodemus. He’s the professional. He knows how to perfectly keep the Sabbath. He’s revered by his students, but he knows that there has to be something more than just keeping religious rules.
Then, there’s Mary Magdalene. And for the first time in a long time, she keeps Shabbat. And she sets out an empty chair, hoping for Elijah to come and fill it someday. And Jesus shows up at her dinner and he sits in the chair.
Finally, Matthew - all alone with his black dog on Shabbat. He’s estranged from his parents because he, being a Jew, collects taxes for Rome from his Jewish people. And they can’t stand him for that. Levi thought he had done the family a favor, sparing them ridicule by using his Greek name, Matthew, when he became a tax collector. Never worked. Though Matthew practiced Judaism, it wasn’t enough. His family shunned him.
They had given him the name Matthew Levi, with Levi a solid Hebrew name, no doubt intending that he grow up to become some revered – maybe a Jewish priest. But he wasn’t cut out for that. And he grew weary of poverty. Numbers and analysis came easy for him, so he forced himself to deal with people, something he found more tolerable if he concentrated on their finances and government regulations. He could focus on the details and rarely even had to look anyone in the eye.
In Episode 2, Matthew makes his way down a narrow alleyway, gingerly carrying a covered dish, napkins protecting his fingers. He’s dressed down, more like the taxpayers he faces every day, and he’s lost in his thoughts. And in his longings. Might his parents and his sister welcome him to Shabbat dinner.
Every Sabbath eve, Matthew hopes his family will soften in their stance and allow him back to the Sabbath family gathering at the table. Most Sabbath meals in Matthew’s family, no one hardly glances out the window, but still Matthew hopes. Through the window, he watches his mother steaming a bowl on the candlelit table and his sister places two loaves. Matthew remembers those childhood dinners that he took for granted. None of the family members bother to look up toward the window and once again obsessive-compulsive Matthew heads back home.
Matthew the Tax Collector Hosts Jesus
In Jesus’ conversation with Matthew, the disciples and the Pharisees, Jesus lumps all of humanity into two groups: people who think they are righteous and people who know they are sinners. That’s it. No sliding scale, no grading on the curve, no subjective labels. We either pretend we don’t need him or we acknowledge we do (Smith, Jesus Is, 14).
The common denominator is that we all need help. The catch is that we don’t all admit it. Rather than understanding that we need Him, we prop ourselves up with the religious person tendency by looking at people who do supposedly worse things than us. In reality, the greatest hindrance to receiving the grace of God is not our scandalous sins – it’s our empty good deeds.
The Pharisee loved to point out all the sins they hated. They thought their aloofness made them holy. Their measuring stick of spirituality was the badness of the people they rejected. We decide on the rules and laws to fit our lifestyle. Then, we mandate that of others. If you break my rules, you’re bad. If you follow them, you’re good. If you are more strict than me, you need to lighten up.
Deep inside, I think we’re all aware that we wrestle with wrong thoughts. We get impatient with our kids. We treat our spouse rudely. We do things for selfish reasons rather than love. Whether we’re better or worse than another really is beside the point. What matters is a recognition that I need a Savior.
They wanted a Messiah to be just like them: wear distinguished robes so people could see you coming and get out of the way. I want you to remember something. Notorious sinners didn’t kill Jesus; religious people did. Speak and bear witness to the truth. By all means. Especially this central truth: people who think they are righteous and people who know they are sinners. Less focus on being good; more on being honest.
Jesus shatters what we think God should act like.
Matthew got on board. He followed. Matthew confessing his MASTER in simple but powerful ways: by leaving his idolatry; by telling his friends; by writing his book and telling his story. Do you have an idol to leave, a friend to tell, a story to share?