Matthew 9:9-13

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.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:9-13

Where in the world did anyone ever get the idea that “good” people go to church and “bad” people don’t? This idea – held in far too many hearts – requires ignoring every major Bible story that I can think of and certainly requires that we completely ignore the ministry of Jesus.

Is it possible that Christians, well-meaning and maybe even well-intentioned Christians, can hold ideas near and dear to their hearts that require them to ignore the ministry of Jesus? Yes, it seems quite possible. Sneakily, eerily, tragically, possible.

Tax collectors were universally hated in Jesus’ day. They bribed their way into their roles as collaborators to the occupying Roman powers. They extorted money from their fellow Jews as virtually everything came attached with a Roman tax…and the highest surcharges that the tax collectors could skim and get away with. They were backed up by the muscle of the Roman military. They were present even in the smallest villages.

Imagine the shock spreading through the people following Jesus when he approached Matthew’s table. Instead of criticizing him for his evil occupation, Jesus says “Follow me.” Instead of telling Jesus to shove off, Matthew immediately leaves his table behind. Now this is a surprise!

But it fits! It fits with a Biblical narrative that begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave his childhood home and travel to a distant land. And he does. God’s call to Moses, a murderer hiding out behind a flock of sheep. And Moses goes and does what God wants. David, from shepherd to king. Peter, James, John and the others, from the obscurity of fishing for fish to the notoriety of fishing for people. Paul, from Jewish supremacist to Christian missionary. A radical invitation extended to just the right misfit who then abruptly, immediately, responds.

Jesus goes beyond calling followers, he eats among friends. He moves from the immediacy of call and response to the intimacy of sharing a meal around a table. With a very mixed crowd.

Why? “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

The guest list in Jesus’ mind doesn’t seem to be divided into the “good” or the “bad” but the willing and the unwilling. Between those who respond to Jesus’ invitation to come to dinner and those who prefer to eat elsewhere. Because, in the end, you gotta eat somewhere.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for the invitation to join you at your table. Thank you for reaching through the ages, through the crowds, to notice a sinner like me, call me by name, and invite me to follow. Thank you for willingness, fleeting and fickle though it be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 9:9-13”

  1. Carolee Groux Says:

    In this passage from Matthew Jesus calls on Matthew, a tax collector to follow him. In the book of Mark he calls Simon Peter and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him.
    Mark 1: 16-18
    16 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow Me, Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 And at once they left their nets and followed Him.…
    When we are called will we accept the invitation to follow, to be God’s disciples today?

  2. Matthew 9:9-13 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Pharisees Accuse When Matthew Is Called | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten Says:

    […] Matthew 9:9-13 […]

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