The Tax Collector
Four main kinds of heavy taxes were placed on the people of Judea during the period of Roman rule: a tax on land, payable either in kind or in money; a poll tax; a tax on personal property; and customs duties on exports and imports. Residents of Jerusalem bore an additional house tax. Moreover, the Jewish people also were subject to an annual payment of a half shekel to the Temple in Jerusalem (Matt 17:24).
A census, or enrollment, was ordered by Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D. 14) for the purpose of taxation. It was probably a delayed response to his census of 8 B.C. which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born (Luke 2:1-7). The New Testament mentions another enrollment which evoked a strong reaction from the Jews (Acts 5:37). Among those who appear in the Gospels, Matthew was a tax collector, or better, a customs official (Matthew 9:9). When Jesus first encountered Zacchaeus, at Jericho, “he was a chief tax collector, and rich” (Luke 19:1-10).
Tax collectors were held in low esteem (Matt. 9:10-11; Luke 5:27-30), not only because the Jews detested the taxes (see Matt. 22:17-21), but also because of tax collection procedures. Regular taxes, such as that on land, were the direct responsibility of the Roman governor. The collection of other taxes, such as that imposed on movable property, was sold out to private individuals. These individuals (tax collectors; or “publicans”) paid a fee in advance for the right to collect the tax, hoping to achieve a profit in the transaction.
(Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, Harpers’ Encyclopedia of Bible Life, Harper and Row, 1978, pp. 268-269)
Reading the Scripture
Here are some ways you might read the scripture or tell the story:
o Faith Comes by Hearing: You’ve Got the Time (Dramatized New Testament that we used a few years ago during Lent. Available in the church office and library.)
o The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (“presented by a stellar ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers.” Available from Keith).
o WatchWord Bible, New Testament on DVD is available in the library. (These videos display and read the text in Contemporary English Version with background pictures, video and sound. Not exactly dramatized or all that exciting, but could be another way to read the text.)
• Before we are too judgmental of the Pharisees in this passage, maybe we should ask ourselves, “Who is not welcome at LABC?”
• One of our Core Values is Friendliness (below): Remind your class of this core value. Discuss its meaning in relation to today’s lesson.
Through Christian fellowship we develop meaningful relationships with our church family. We value each person as a child of God. We seek to be warm and accepting, extending Christian love to everyone. (1 John 4:19-21, James 2:8, 23, John 6, Colossians, 3:12-14, Philippians 2:2-5)
• Evangelism/Outreach Activity: Put the Bible into practice. Plan a class fellowship or picnic at a member’s home. Encourage class members to invite friends and neighbors. Some may come to a home fellowship for the first time that would be hesitant to come to your Sunday School class at church until they get to know the class better.
• Evangelism Styles: “Suggestions for Using and Developing this Style” (from Becoming a Contagious Christian: Participant’s Guide, pp. 32-33) - Invitational
o When inviting people, try to get written details about the event into their hands (either preprinted or handwritten out). Whenever appropriate, offer to pick them up and do something together before or after the event.
o At events, put yourself in the place of the other person. Ask yourself if you were that person, whether the event would relate to your concerns and mindset. Reinforce those things to the person you invited.
• Throw a Matthew Party (Becoming a Contagious Christian, pp. 109-113): Like Matthew/Levi we can use social events as opportunity to invite others into our circle of Christian friendship. Here are some examples (explained in more detail in the book).
o Golfing Events
o Holiday Parties
o Events for Kids on the Block
o Pie Parties
o Baptism Receptions
o Sharing a Meal
o Watching the Game
o Sporting Activities
o Exercise Time
o Babysitting and Work Exchange
o Children’s Activities
o Strategic Workdays
• Think of special services or events at Lexington Avenue Baptist to which we might invite unchurched persons. For example: Easter Sunday, Advent/Christmas services, class socials, Block Party, Fall Festival, Friendship Day, concerts, youth and children’s activities, etc.
• Ask one of our greeters (you likely have one in your class) to discuss their role as it relates to hospitality evangelism.
• You can probably think of people in our church present or past who present a challenge and make us wonder if God is using them to test our hospitality. If you discuss this, obviously you will want to do so with sensitivity.
• Concentric Circles of Concern: Use the Concentric Circles of Concern to help class members identify person within their sphere of influence toward which they could extend hospitality (See attached sheet).
• Hospitality Evangelism: We have an excellent resource, Hospitality Evangelism, with worship experience, prayer, fellowships, a retreat, and Bible study sessions. It is filled with ideas you might use with this session. It also includes a VHS video tape with seven-minute dramatized hospitality scenarios: (1) Opening the Door (first impressions from the parking lot to pew); (2) Opening the Fellowship Circle (small groups in Sunday School); (3) Making Room at the Table (fellowship dinner); (4) Sharing the Bread of Life (worship). Each clip shows a negative (and kind of funny) example and a positive example. You may be especially interested in segment 2 on Sunday School classes.
• In July, starting on the 11th, Wednesday prayer and Bible study will be held at 12:00 with lunch. We hope this will provide an opportunity for us to invite persons from the downtown business community to join us and extend hospitality to them. Do your class members know of people who work downtown that could be invited?
I have set aside a shelf in the library with resources for Sunday School teachers. I will place there resources of general interest and some specifically applicable to current lessons.
• For additional commentary on the text see these commentaries in our library:
o Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)
• Evangelism Resources:
o Hospitality Evangelism: Sharing the Bread of Life, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, 1999.
o Becoming a Contagious Christian, Bill Hybels & Mark Mittleberg (Zondervan, 1994)
o Becoming a Contagious Christian: Participant’s Guide, Mark Mittleberg, Lee Stobel & Bill Hybels (Zondervan, 1995)
o Got Style? Personality-Based Evangelism, Jeffrey A. Johnson (Judson Press, 2009)
o Concentric Circles of Concern: From Self to Others Through Life-Style Evangelism, W. Oscar Thompson, Jr. with Carolyn Thompson (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1981)
o Anytime, Anywhere: Sharing Faith Jesus Style, William L. Turner (Judson Press, 1997).