Matthew was a tax collector. He “stole” from the Jews by overtaxing their income and property. Tax collectors in general were notorious at padding their own pockets with any excess they charged, and to make matters worse, they were cheating their own people. Matthew was a hated man but was protected by the Romans. He worked a secure job, lived in luxury, and held authoritative power over the citizens of Rome. But one day Jesus “saw Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” (1) By following Jesus, Matthew betrayed the very people for whom he worked. But when Jesus called his name, he simply quit his job.
Simon was a Zealot. The Zealots hated the government and planned violent attacks on Roman soldiers and politicians. They especially hated tax collectors because they saw them as traitors to the nation of Israel. By following Jesus, Simon betrayed the Zealots to whom he had pledged his life. He gave up his friends, his political viewpoints, and his purpose. And . . . he found himself serving alongside a tax collector! 😏
Simon and Matthew traveled together, lived together, served Jesus together. Add a few callous fishermen and other men of various backgrounds to that traveling group and we have quite a colorful array of disciples. Jesus chose these guys over the religious, the educated, and the esteemed in the community. How unimpressive this group must have been to everyone else! However, their lives were all radically changed by Jesus. They eventually became great leaders in the early church. I love reading about and learning from all the disciples.
All except one.
“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’” (2) Wait. What? 😮 One of the twelve did that? How does that happen? How does someone travel around with Jesus for three years, and then hand him over to the authorities to be arrested in exchange for a few dollars? What kind of person was Judas, really?
Remember the scene where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive oil? Here’s Judas’ reaction to Mary’s gesture. ‘“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’” (3) So Judas was an advocate of the poor? No. He just appeared that way. John, writing in retrospect, adds this: “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (4) 😮
So, Judas was a thief. But so was Matthew, really. And Simon the Zealot was a violent guy. And Peter denied even knowing Jesus when he was pressed. And James and John asked Jesus for special privileges. And Thomas had his doubts about Jesus. As did John the Baptist! They all had their flaws and insecurities. Jesus recognized this about them. After the Passover meal, Jesus told the disciples, “You will all fall away.” (5) (And they did!) During that meal Jesus told them that someone in the group would betray him. And they all looked around and asked, “Is it I, Lord?” (6) And even when he identifies Judas as the guy, none of them believe it to be true. Nobody ever suspected Judas would do such a thing. Judas appeared to be as much of a follower of Jesus as the rest of them.
So, what’s my point? Anyone can appear to be a follower of Jesus. True, but that’s not the real point. The real point is that at any point, our lives can be radically changed by Jesus. And—at any point, we can fail him miserably. 😟 But here’s the thing—it does not matter what we have done, who we have become, how bad we think we are, or how often and how recently we have failed him—Jesus still loves us and invites us to follow him. Think about it. Jesus chose Judas to be part of his small group. He washed his feet! 😮 Jesus loved . . . Judas!
1) Matthew 9:9 2) Matthew 26:14 3) John 12:5 4) John 12:6 5) Mark 14:27 6) Matthew 26:22