“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ he said to him. So he got up and followed him. As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this he said, ‘Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this saying means: “I want mercy and not sacrifice.” For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:9-13 NET).
Have you noticed those whom Jesus spent time with? He wasn’t concerned to appear politically correct and only spend time with the movers and thinkers of his day. His concern was the everyday, normal people.
Even those he chose to train and follow him are good examples of this. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen. And then there is Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector.
Tax collectors were not liked. They were viewed as traitors of the Jewish people because they were working for the hated occupation government, the Romans. To make matters worse, tax collectors were notoriously dishonest in their tax collecting, often extorting more than was required so that they would have a very healthy income.
Matthew had a tax booth on the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps he charged taxes on the fish that were caught or goods coming into the town of Capernaum (Matthew 9:1-8 indicates that this took place on the shore of Capernaum). Capernaum was on a major trade route which went from Damascus in the north to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, and then on to the Mediterranean Sea. Taxes were charged for the movement of goods through this area.
If we saw someone in a similar position today, hated by the populace because of what they did, would we want to be seen to be around them? Yet Jesus called Matthew to “Follow me.” Matthew left the tax booth and followed Jesus.
We don’t know when Matthew heard of Jesus. As Capernaum was Jesus’ base, he very well could have heard Jesus teaching in the area. Whatever the case, he knew who Jesus was and was so convinced by him that he immediately followed him. He also wanted his friends to know Jesus. So the first thing he did was to organize a meal at his house and invited his friends.
Notice who his friends were: other tax collectors and sinners. These sinners would also have been outcasts from Jewish society and often included prostitutes. The religious elite could not fathom what Jesus was doing: why would he choose to spend time with known sinners and tax collectors? Surely he would have been better off spending time with them.
Jesus response was simple: “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do.” The Pharisees did not think they needed Jesus or anything he had to offer. The tax collectors and sinners knew why they were outcasts and realized that Jesus offered what they needed. The religious leaders needed to learn what mercy was.
What about us? When we look for people we can talk to about Jesus, do we go to the outcasts of our society? Or do we think more like the Pharisees: what would people say if we were to spend time in the company of known sinners and especially prostitutes?
We need to learn from the example of Jesus. No one is outside of God’s grace. No one is too much of a sinner to not need Jesus. Jesus came to bring grace and mercy to sinners. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
May we learn what true mercy is.
photo: Sea of Galilee at Capernaum, January 2018
Readings for next week:
14 January – Matthew 9
15 January – Matthew 10
16 January – Matthew 11
17 January – Matthew 12
18 January – Matthew 13