As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.I'm always suspicious of interpretations that rely too heavily on the precise wording of the Bible, but today I was inspired to try one. The text here doesn't say Matthew was a tax collector. It says he was sitting at the tax booth. Of course, he was sitting there because his job was collecting taxes, but the text doesn't define him that way. It describes him simply as "a man called Matthew."
The typical treatment of this story is to say how because Matthew was a tax collector he was basically the scum of the earth in his culture and then to marvel at the fact that Jesus is willing to have him as a disciple anyway. But this treatment (yes, I've sketched it harshly) really involves a judgment of Matthew that Jesus doesn't make. Matthew is a man. He has his faults, and his choice of careers may be one of them, but we don't know what his life has been like and why he made the choices he did.
As I was trying to apply this to my life, I thought about my neighbor. He's the manager of a local strip club. I've never met him, but I have met his wife and his son. They seem nice enough. My daughters are friends with his son. Thinking about this man in the light of this verse in Matthew I think I see what's required for me to see him as a man apart from his occupation.