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. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, 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, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
As Jesus left Capernaum He passed a tax booth. The tax booth was on the edge of the city. It was on the trade route between Damascus to Galilee and the Mediterranean. It is there they collected taxes on produce and goods brought into the area for sale. It was a sort of sales tax paid by the seller. The seller would pass on the tax through higher prices.
This is where Jesus met Matthew. Matthew worked for Rome. More directly, he worked for Herod Antipas. His job was collecting taxes. The Jews despised him. They regarded him as a traitor.
Tax collecting was not an honorable profession. It plundered the people. It was infamous. Matthew was a tax collector. Matthew was a thief. Yet Jesus chose Matthew. Not only did Jesus choose Matthew, but He also made him an apostle. Why? Matthew had done nothing to deserve such grace and honor. Matthew was infamous. He was a legal thief. He stole from his fellow Jews. As Paul tells us in Romans, God chooses us before the beginning of the world. God chooses before we have done good or evil. (Romans 9:11) So it was with Matthew. God chose him for God’s reason and purpose alone.
Matthew was an illustration of Christ’s grace. He showed his gratitude by proclaiming Christ. As a result, we have this wonderful record.
Mark and Luke call him Levi. It appears this was his given name. He took a foreign name when he decided to become a publican.
Jesus went to Matthew’s house and had a meal. In the first century, middle eastern meals were not eaten while sitting at a table. People ate while reclining on their side on the floor. The head was closest to the low table with feet away from the table.
Matthew invited many of his friends to share the meal with Jesus. They were fellow publicans or tax collectors. Publicans were infamous for their collecting more than required.
When the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with publicans, they were indignant. The issue was inappropriate associations. Jews were very careful about personal associations and contacts. It was a matter of ritual cleanliness. Their question was not a question. It was an accusation. They were claiming Jesus was ritually unclean.
But Jesus was not defiled by contact with lepers. And He was not defiled by contact with sinners. He was the Physician. He healed spiritual and physical sickness.
When Jesus heard what the Pharisees said He pointed out the sick were the ones who needed him. They were the ones who would respond to the offer of help. A healthy person, or at least one who thinks he is, will not seek help.
So the Pharisees erred in two ways. First, They ignored Christ’s office. Second, they did not recognize their own sin. Those other guys were sinners. They saw themselves as righteous. This should catch our attention. We often fall into the same trap. We fail to see our own sin. We are the same as the most wretched of sinners except for the covering of Christ’s righteousness.
Jesus addressed the second error by replying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician.” They claimed righteousness but were sick themselves.
Who are your friends? Do you know and associate with those whose behavior you find repugnant? If not, how will they hear of God’s grace? How will they believe if they do not see God’s grace in you?
Listen to Christ’s words. “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”