That morning when Matthew got up to go to work, there was a gutted pig on his porch.
Disgusted at the sight of the carcass, Matthew called his servant and asked him to remove it and to clean the porch. Then he went to the stable to get his donkey.
In the alley leading to the livery, someone on the upper floor of a neighbouring house threw the contents of a chamber pot out the window. Matthew stepped away just in time to avoid being covered with excrement. When he looked up to see who did that there was, of course, nobody there.
He could hear his donkey braying in its stall: somebody had painted the donkey green during the night.
Passersby laughed at him as he headed to work on his green donkey.
The donkey is known for his laziness and stubbornness. However, it is a more economical way to travel than by camel or by horse.
How he hated his job as a tax collector! Even though the pay was good, it was a permanent position and there were benefits, the contempt and disapproval from his fellow citizens were hard to take.
Since the beginning of time taxation has never been popular. Nobody enjoys paying taxes and everybody believes, whether it is true or not, that state finances are badly managed and that taxes profit the government and the rulers of the country.
The Taxation Office had assigned Matthew to Capernaum, on the shore of Lake Tiberias. The Jews kept calling the lake “Sea of Galillee” not wanting to recognize the authority of Tiberius, the Emperor of the Roman invaders. However Matthew did not work for the Romans: he was a public servant for the Governor, Herod Antipas, a Jew who was raised and educated in Rome.
Herod was praised by some for the great infrastructure works he oversaw and paid for with tax money. Others hated him because they saw him as the Romans’ puppet and as a man of loose morals.
Matthew arrived at work and tied up the donkey behind the building in the shade, and checked that there was enough water in the trough so the animal could drink when the sun was high.
He then entered his office, mentally preparing himself to meet merchants and traders who would shamelessly lie about their income and sales, and then, as soon as he threatened them with a tax audit, would end up begging without dignity.
At lunch time, Matthew left to get his donkey and have lunch under a palm tree before taking a nap.
The animal was lying on its side, still tied up, dead. Somebody had poisoned the water.
Appalled, Matthew stared at the animal’s corpse. He could not believe how cruel people were. He was not looking forward to walking, from now on, once a week, the six miles between Capernaum and Tiberias, the region’s capital, where he had to submit his report to the head office.
In Hebrew, Capernaum means “town of comfort”. However Matthew saw no comfort when he looked around at the customs office, the market with its tables crumbling under the weight of goods and produce, the warehouses bursting at the seams with merchandise waiting to be delivered by caravan or by boat to other towns, other countries.
He looked at the barracks where lodged the Roman soldiers responsible for keeping the peace in town. He knew that they would laugh at him if he reported the death of his donkey and that he would never be compensated.
He saw the inn and decided to have a pitcher of wine.
Smoke from hookah pipes filled the room. The patrons gave Matthew dirty looks as he came in. There was a free spot in a corner near a table where Simon, Andrew, James and John, local fishermen, were talking with a stranger.
The hookah pipe is a water pipe that was invented in India. It is very popular in the Middle East. It is mainly used to smoke flavoured tobacco but also other substances.
The innkeeper slammed the wine pitcher on the table where Matthew was sitting, his face in his hands, crying silently. Matthew poured a glass and, as he was about to drink, he noticed the stranger sitting with the fishermen looking kindly at him.
The way the man was looking at him troubled him and when the stranger asked “Tough day at work?” he could not hold back and started to cry again. The stranger rose and came and sat at Matthew’s table.
The stranger said his name was Yeshua. For whatever reason, Matthew felt safe and told him about the string of bad luck that had befallen him that day.
Yeshua quietly listened to him then said:
– We all have our cross to bear, myself maybe a little more than others. Follow me. Together we will wander on the dusty roads of Galillee. We will eat whatever food people give us and we will sleep in the fields to wake up in the morning drenched with dew. Some day after I am dead, you will write about all that you saw and heard. Then, you will go to Ethiopia where you will be stoned to death by the King’s soldiers for exposing his debauchery. I am sorry; there is nothing more I can do to help. Are you interested?
The Gospel of Saint Matthew recalls the years Matthew, patron saint of tax collectors, accountants and tax lawyers, spent with Jesus. However the account does not say much about how he became an apostle, that’s why Straight from the Bowels is gladly filling the blanks.
Was it the wine? Was it despair? Whatever it was, Matthew thought that the idea of becoming a vagrant and living a life of adventure was better than remaining a taxman.
In a second, his mind was made up.
When Matthew and Yeshua left the inn, Simon whispered to Andrew:
– I told you it would work! We still have some green paint left over. Let’s try again with someone else’s donkey tonight!
– All right! Let’s try with Judas, the moron working at the currency exchange who always complains that he is 30 silver coins short!