Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong?
That is a really rotten (and scary) feeling. That you’re an outsider. That your life is somehow unacceptable. That you aren’t enough.
That’s probably how Matthew had felt all his life. No, I don’t know anything about his childhood. Scriptures don’t give us any background on Matthew except that he was a tax collector. The Romans contracted with local people to collect taxes, and the collectors tended to extort excess taxes for personal profit, enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow citizens. They were thus held in great contempt, barred from the synagogue, and considered the moral equivalent of robbers and murderers.
So why do I think Matthew felt like he never belonged? People who feel they belong do not turn on their neighbors and exploit them for personal profit and gain. I imagine that Matthew was someone who didn’t feel that he belonged well before he took up his profession.
But Jesus came to him and said “Follow Me.” And instantly Matthew—the very definition of an outsider—became the ultimate insider. Jesus wanted Matthew—the tax collector, the thief, the excommunicated—to follow him. And then, Jesus went to dine at his house. For the first time in his life, Matthew was sitting at the coolest table of all.
And when the cream of the crop, the perfectly pious, the ones who could quote scripture by heart saw Matthew and his sinner friends eating at the table with Jesus, they were scandalized. How could he? How could Jesus validate their existence by breaking bread with them? These wretched sinners!
At some point I imagine Jesus must have let out a big sigh of weariness. So tired must he have been of people who just didn’t get it. “I’m a healer. I didn’t come to help the well, I came for the sick. Don’t you get it? I’m not about the insiders like you. I’m all about the outsiders, you thick-headed, elitist holy rollers.”
And we still don’t get it either. We spend a great deal of our lives trying to be good enough, or we spend time trying to make ourselves believe that others aren’t good enough so maybe we’ll look a little bit better.
We have all felt like we don’t belong. And, more than likely, we will continue to encounter people and places that make us feel like outsiders. But they are wrong. You are a beloved children of God. You are nvited to sit at the table of Jesus Christ. Be not afraid. You belong.