Reading Time: 7 Minutes
Matthew was an unlikely candidate to become a “religious” person. To the general population he was an undesirable outcast. In this account we will see that the straight-laced religious crowd could only see Matthew’s failures, but Jesus saw his potential. Today’s Bible passage highlights the values of the kingdom of God in contrast to the dry formality of traditional religious observances.
Matthew relates his own calling like this: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9.9).
Notice Matthew’s humility. This is his only reference to himself in the gospel he has written. Possibly, his humility came from being a despised member of society because of his tax collector job.
The Encyclopedia of the Bible says this about Matthew and his fellow tax collectors. “As a class, the tax collectors were hated by their fellow Jews. This was almost inevitable. They represented the foreign domination of Rome. That they often overcharged people and pocketed the surplus is almost certain. In the rabbinical writings they are classified with robbers. They were considered to be renegades, who sold their services to the foreign oppressor to make money at the expense of their own countrymen.”
A Friend of Sinners
Not only did Matthew leave his place of employment to follow Jesus, he invited his friends to meet Jesus over dinner at his home.
Matthew recalls the dinner like this, “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Matthew 9.10).
One of the tenants of Alcoholics Anonymous is that of attraction, not promotion. The AA Tradition Eleven states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, television, and films.”
One member of AA described the way attraction works, “When people see the four changes in our life — mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual — they are attracted. They need no promotion. This is a program for people who want it.”
Matthew had no trouble getting people to his party. All they needed to see was his troubled countenance replaced by joy, anxiety changed into peace, and his willingness to walk away from a lucrative yet dishonest business.
One man preached a message and said, “I don’t drink, smoke, cuss, chew or go with those who do.”
Another man replied, “Every body in the graveyard does that. What’s so special about you?”
Negative, narrow, and nauseating religion drives people from Jesus. A joyful, peace-filled, abundant life attracts people to Jesus. Matthew and people like him are outstanding examples of attraction to Jesus.
The Negative, Narrow, and Nauseating Crowd Speaks
One of my pastor friends was attempting to rescue a dying church. A leading member of the church told him, “Don’t try to make us like Maywood.” That church member sounds to me like what we next read in Matthew’s account.
He wrote, “And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” (Matthew 9.11).
Maywood is not filled with tax collectors, but we do have our share of sinners. One man coming to Maywood for the first time said, “I’ve never seen so many tattoos outside of a tattoo convention.” Another man was surprised to see so many men with whom he had been in prison.
How did this happen? Like Matthew, people who experienced the joy of following Jesus, invited their friends to the party. It was a party where addicts found freedom and criminals found honesty. Even a few “normal” people like me got invited to the party.
We praise God for what he has done at Maywood Baptist Church over the past 15 years. The party of transformed lives is infinitely more fun and joyful – if, often messy – than the narrow, negative, dry religion of the Pharisees.
Jesus was the wisest and most intelligent person to walk the face of the earth. He knew genuine ministry better than anyone else. He told the religious crowd, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9.12-13).
On June 8, ABC News reported that 600 health care workers in the United States have died from corona virus. They died, because they understood that it is impossible to heal anyone and stay distant from them at the same time. They fulfilled in practice the meaning of “mercy.” They had what someone else needed and willingly gave it to them – for some, at the cost of their lives.
Jesus built friendships with people who were distant from God for the purpose helping them become a friend of God. If God’s goal for us is friendship, what better way to introduce someone to that friendship than by being a friend in the first place?
Imagine a beautiful arched bridge over a little creek. Trees overhang the creek and the bridge, providing shade for a friendly walk across the bridge to a beautiful garden. When Jesus ate with Matthew’s friends, he was taking them by the hand and walking them over that bridge to a glorious life with God.
Now, imagine a tall hurdle like the kind used for military obstacle courses. The hurdle can be scaled, but many are eliminated in failure. The approach of the Pharisees was to have people clean up their lives before they could be accepted. The harshness of the message and height of the demands kept the majority away from God.
As we relate to people as followers of Jesus, let’s keep these two images in mind. Let’s find ways to take people by the hand and walk them as friends to a place where they can meet Jesus.
Jesus included those who were excluded. We can do that too. He raised up those who were put down. We can follow his example. Jesus was a friends of outcasts and sinner. We can use the friendships we have to help others meet the very best Friend anyone could have, Jesus.
Dear Jesus, we praise you today for your loving and merciful approach. We praise you that you came to save sinners. Without your love, we would be lost. Please help us to imitate your way of relating to people.