Well off, but despised, sitting at his booth. A traitor. A sinner. An extortioner. Passersby glance the other way, hoping not to get harassed. Whispers of judgment hardly quiet from the Pharisees in their elaborate religious get up. One man doesn’t look away or condemn. He sees potential. Jesus says simply, “Follow me.”
Not likely, one would think. Why would a businessman not concerned with religious ritual follow a simple traveling teacher? But not so of this businessman. Matthew rises and follows.
Not only does Matthew rise and follow, but he also invites his friends and associates – fellow sinners – to come and recline; come and eat with this teacher who saw something in him no one else did. Something the Pharisees would never do or condone.
This brings about the questions Jesus already knows is in the heart of the Pharisees, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11) Why would this supposed teacher associate with “those” unclean people? Though not directed at Jesus, Jesus responds. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
Jesus knows full well that all of us are sick apart from Him. The difference is the Pharisees didn’t know it. Jesus continues telling them to go and hear the meaning of these Scriptures they love and know so well, specifically pointing them to Hosea 6:6, ”I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”
In Hosea’s time, the Jewish people were going through the motions. They were offering sacrifices religiously. But they were far from God. They had no love; no mercy. These Pharisees would practically know it by heart.
Bound up in their religious ritual and favored social status, the Pharisees had no love; no mercy.
On the outside, the Pharisees looked perfect. Inside their heart was hard.
One the outside, Matthew, the sinner, looked hopeless. Inside his heart was open. He immediately follows Jesus and wants his friends to do the same.
Substance vs. show
Mercy vs. more religion
Grace vs. guilt
Love vs. lists
Jesus invites sinners to His table. Not to judge or condemn or lecture or have their bad behavior rub off on Him, but to love in order to save. And at this table, they find healing, life, hope. As they get up from this table, they desire nearness to God, obedience, bearing good fruit.
Chapter 9 ends with Jesus, full of compassion, saying to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37)
That is us. We are the laborers. We are not to just be hearers of the word, but laborers. Doers. Workers. We are called to recline and eat and share the Gospel with all people. The harvest is plentiful, fellow laborers. Let’s do this!
(P.S. the story of Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman is one of my favorites. I love how it is presented in Mark, so I plan to write more on that when we get there.)
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