MONG the Jews there was one class of men hated and despised by the people more than any other. That was "the publicans." These were the men who took from the people the tax which the Roman rulers had laid upon the land. Many of these publicans were selfish, grasping, and cruel. They robbed the people, taking more than was right. Some of them were honest men, dealing fairly, and taking no more for the tax than was needful; but because so many were wicked, all the publicans were hated alike; and they were called "sinners" by the people.
One day, when Jesus was going out of Capernaum to the sea-side, followed by a great crowd of people, he passed a publican or tax-gatherer, who was seated at his table taking money from the people who came to pay their taxes. This man was named Matthew or Levi, for many Jews had two names. Jesus could look into the hearts of men, and he saw that Matthew was one who might help him as one of his disciples. He looked upon Matthew, and said, "Follow me!"
Jesus calls Matthew
At once the publican rose up from his table, and left it to go with Jesus. All the people wondered as they saw one of the hated publicans among the disciples, with Peter, and John, and the rest. But Jesus knew that Matthew would long afterward do a work that would bless the world forever. It was this same Matthew the publican, who many years after this wrote "The Gospel according to Matthew," the book which tells us so much about Jesus, and more than any other book gives us the words that Jesus spoke to the people. Jesus chose Matthew, knowing that he would write this book. A little while after Jesus called him Matthew made a great feast for Jesus at his house; and to the feast he invited many publicans, and others whom the Jews called sinners. The Pharisees saw Jesus sitting among these people, and they said with scorn to his disciples, "Why does your Master sit at the table with publicans and sinners?"
Jesus heard of what these men had said, and he said, "Those that are well do not need a doctor to cure them, but those that are sick do need one. I go to these people because they know that they are sinners and need to be saved. I came not to call those who think themselves to be good, but those who wish to be made better."
One evening Jesus went alone to a mountain not far from Capernaum. A crowd of people and his disciples followed him; but Jesus left them all, and went up to the top of the mountain, where he could be alone. There he stayed all night, praying to God, his Father and our Father. In the morning, out of all his followers, he chose twelve men who should walk with him, and listen to his words, so that they might be able to teach others in turn. Some of these men he had called before; but now he called them again, and others with them. They were called "The Twelve," or "the disciples;" and after Jesus went to heaven they were called "The Apostles," a word which means "those who were sent out," because Jesus sent them out to preach the gospel to the world.
The names of the twelve disciples, or apostles were these: Simon Peter, and his brother Andrew; James and John, the two sons of Zebedee; Philip of Bethsaida, and Nathanael, who was also called Bartholomew, a name which means "the son of Tholmai;" Thomas, who was also called Didymus, a name which means "a twin," and Matthew, the publican or tax-gatherer; another James, the son of Alphaeus, who was called "James the Less," to keep his name apart from the first James, the brother of John, and Lebbeus, who was also called Thaddeus. Lebbeus was called also Judas, but he was a different man from another Judas, whose name is always given last. The eleventh name was another Simon, who was called "the Cananaen" or "Simon Zelotes;" and the last name was Judas Iscariot, who was afterward the traitor. We know very little about most of these men, but some of them in later days did a great work. Simon Peter was a leader among them, and John, long after those times, when he was a very old man, wrote one of the most wonderful books in all the world, "The Gospel according to John," the fourth among the gospels.
In the sight of all the people who had come to hear Jesus, Jesus called these twelve men to stand by his side. Then, on the mountain, he preached to these disciples and to the great company of people. Jesus sat down, the disciples stood beside him, and the great crowd of people stood in front, while Jesus spoke. What he said on that day is called "The Sermon on the Mount." Matthew wrote it down, and you can read it in his gospel, in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters. Jesus began with these words to his disciples:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Here are some more of the words of Jesus in this sermon:
I say unto you, Do not be anxious for your life what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on you. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the birds of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet our heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no anxious thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
This is what Jesus said about prayer to our heavenly Father:
Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find: knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth: and he that seeketh findeth: and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him!
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets.
And this was the end of the sermon:
Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house: and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.