Two notable exceptions to the fishermen faction of Jesus’ twelve disciples was the curious inclusion of Matthew the former tax collector and Simon the zealot. If you know much about first century politics you might wonder, what was Jesus thinking in picking these two guys for his inner circle?
As you probably know, for the people in the first century (and 21stcentury for that matter), the tax man was not high on anyone’s Christmas card list (truth be told, very few people received Christmas cards in the first century). Still the 21stcentury IRS employees would not be considered thieves, loan sharks or collaborators with the enemies. They are nice people. That would not have been the common opinion regarding their 1stcentury counterparts.
On the other hand, the zealots would have been at the polar opposite extreme of tax collectors. Instead of collaborating with the enemy, the zealots would advocate violently overthrowing the enemy. As much as the everyday people hated tax collectors, the zealots hated the Romans and anyone in cahoots with the Romans even more.
It seems with Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot in the tight knit circle of disciples there would have been interesting campfire discussions if not an occasional all-out Conner McGregor vs. Floyd Merriweather-like rumble.
The Gospels don’t sugarcoat the conversations among the disciples. They tell of the disciples arguing about who among them was the greatest (Mark 9:34). And how the other ten were upset with James and John when the brothers were trying to finagle the best seats in heaven (10:41). But you will never read in the Bible: “Simon the zealot was at Matthew the tax collector’s throat. He called him a Little Caesar lover, (which had nothing to do with pizza) and said the Kingdom of heaven wasn’t big enough for them both.” Apparently, Matthew wasn’t petty either. He didn’t conveniently leave Simon off the list of disciples in his gospel. In fact, he points out (like Mark and Luke) that Simon was a zealot. He didn’t even write that Simon was a low-down-good-for-nothing zealot. He simply included Simon the zealot on his list. No big deal.
Christ-followers in the 21stcentury could learn something from these two disciples in the first century. Apparently, not every follower of Jesus must be in the same political camp. It’s possible to have vastly different opinions on tough issues and still follow Jesus. Matthew and Simon’s model shows that even when on opposite ends of the political spectrum, we can still sit and learn together at the feet of Jesus. The Kingdom of God took priority over politics.
If an in-cahoots-with-the-enemy tax collector and a wipe-the-stinking-Romans-and-all-their-collaborators-off-the-face-of-the-earth zealot can get along, why can’t we? Can’t we love those who voted for the other candidate? Can’t we live into Ephesians 4:2 that says: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. “Bearing with one another in love” means to love our fellow believers even when we don’t agree. Can’t we do that? Can’t we be humble, gentle and patient too? It certainly appears that Simon the zealot and Matthew the tax collector were all of those things.