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.’ Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.’
I am in the process of candidating for Non Stipendiary Ministry so I empathise with Matthew and his feelings about being called! I can picture Matthew thinking: “Jesus’ words are wonderful, but why me?” It was clear to those who saw this take place that Jesus extended His forgiveness to even the most despised outcasts of society; even a hated tax collector. Matthew’s response was simple and immediate. Of all the disciples, Matthew paid the highest financial cost in following the Lord.
The activity caught the attention of the Pharisees, so they ask why Jesus is associating with tax collectors and sinners, the outcasts of Jewish society. This was not a question of inquiry, but a rhetorical rebuke. The Pharisees judged everyone else by their own standards and traditions. As far as they were concerned, the righteous associate with other righteous people and sinners with sinners. Jesus claims to be from God, but associates with sinners, therefore He could not be who He claimed. They were gathering evidence to build up a case against Jesus.
Jesus makes three arguments against this premise. The first is an argument from the real world of medicine: healthy people do not need a physician. The second is from Hosea 6:6 – a picture of God’s desire for compassion not sacrifice. The third was based on the very purpose for which Jesus came which was to save His people from their sins. Jesus did not come to call the righteous but to call sinners to Him. It is the poor in spirit that enter the kingdom of God. Repentant sinners receive mercy, grace, and salvation.
What good news this is because it means that no matter who we are, whatever our past, if we ask God for forgiveness, He will call us to Him. He has a pathway set for each one of us if only we answer that call.
Here I am Lord, Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart. Amen
– words from the hymn: I the Lord of Sea and Sky – Daniel L Schutte
Sue Knight, Local Church Leader, Reigate Park URC and Lay Preaching Commissioner, Southern Synod