Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...

Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...
Custer State Park, SD; June, 2010

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Columbia, TN, United States
I am a Christian, married over 43 years to my gorgeous first wife; in 13th year as professor of education at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN; 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Hospitality in a Lakeside Mansion

There he sat, as usual, in his little open-air cubicle beside the lake. He had to admit, of all the lousy places he had found himself setting up camp to perform his lousy job, this was just about the least lousy. It had a nice breeze and a beautiful view. He enjoyed both lovely sunrises and breathtaking sunsets as he put in his long hours collecting taxes for the Roman government. In the calm beauty of dawn or the bewitching twilight of dusk, he was nearly able to lose the feelings of futility that seemed to encompass his entire being these days. Peace! That’s what he wanted more than anything right now, someday. And happiness. His life was work and hatred. He hated the Romans for making him become a traitor to his Jewish brethren. He hated his brothers for constantly either shunning or berating him…even though he knew he deserved it.

That’s right, Levi, the son of Alphaeus, also called Matthew, was quite discontent with his life. He had no friends and no seeming purpose in life. All he had was a pretty good-paying job: adequate salary and sufficient benefits (health insurance, matching retirement plan, season tickets to the chariot races – saw Judah Ben Hur win just last week). He had a nice large house on a bluff overlooking the lake here in Capernaum with a small rowboat tied to his private dock. Too bad he never had the time to use it much less any neighbors he could invite on fishing excursions. The house was a mini-mansion with spacious rooms and a majestic garden. He longed to use his resources to entertain people showing them the hospitality he had witnessed growing up in his parents' lives. They had loved to invite people over. But, alas, those days had long since vanished. He had servants, livestock, even some gold saved up in a hidden place in the house. Yet he would gladly give it up for a little happiness. He prayed for it everyday. That someday God would make a miracle…that was all that could save him from this life of drudgery. He actually knew that his prayers were in vain. Why would God even hear a prayer from such a hypocrite as he had become. Matthew meant “gift of God.” What a crock! He wasn’t anybody’s gift – much less God’s.

Then one day while he was hard at work interviewing peasants, collecting the amounts owed, recording the names and numbers in the logbook…he heard the sounds of chatter. The noise grew louder. A large crowd was approaching. At its head, his gentle voice hushing the multitude, speaking tenderly as he walked, was a man whose countenance was such as Matthew had never seen before. He strode confidently and spoke calmly as one with authority – a caring authority. His bosses never sounded like that. They were either condescending, belittling, or angry. No matter what he did, he could never please them. He could never please anyone – neither his earthly father nor his heavenly one. But this man? He heard the name; he had heard it before, “Jesus.”

Then Jesus uttered those two words, the most inspiring Matthew had ever heard since they were directed at him, “Follow me.” He amazed even himself. Without a questioning word or moment’s hesitation, Matthew scooted his rickety stool back – it fell over – and he walked away from his records, quills, ink wells, water flask, hat, the Roman soldier guarding his back…his entire professional life. He left it in a daze, in the blink of an eye. He didn’t even remember blinking. He found himself following this man called Jesus. He followed him down the street…to a house. It was his own house where he found himself commanding his servants to prepare a great banquet and invite everybody – particularly his fellow tax collectors. He was finally going to be a sharer of the love and hospitality he felt. Others had to see and hear this man Jesus who, with two simple words, had changed Matthew’s life forever. The party went on even though some of the invited guests grumbled and griped about some of the other invited guests.

In the daze that followed (and weeks and months), Matthew gradually discovered two things about himself. First, he loved showing hospitality to his fellows. He had the house, the means, the inclination. The second discovery was that he could write very well. He had always been good with words as well as numbers. His tax reports to his Roman bosses had always impressed them. His narratives describing his collection techniques and experiences with his constituents occasionally got him rare praise from the higher-ups with even an occasionally publication in Roman Digest or Tax Collector's Journal. His detailed descriptions of people’s possessions left no room for doubt as to what was owed. He had talent. Maybe there was a way to use this talent for God’s glory. Perhaps someday he could pen a narrative about Jesus. That would indeed by spreading good news. Perhaps. Someday.

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