Matthew was a tax collector. The Jews hated tax collectors because they were usually swindlers and “sell outs” who worked for the Romans. You couldn’t get any lower than a tax collector. They even had their own category. There were “sinners” and there were “tax collectors.” Like there are normal sinners, and then there are tax collectors.
So Jesus and the disciples came upon Mathew one day and Jesus says, “Why don’t you quit your job and follow me?” (Matthew 9) Matthew says “yes,” and the next thing you know Jesus is at a party at Matthew’s house. There are no details about what happened next, we just know that Matthew throws a party and Jesus is there.
So who would Matthew invite? MORE SINNERS!
Can you imagine the scene? Put it in modern day context. I can only imagine Matthew running back and forth from the kitchen, making sure everyone was being looked after as he listened to the conversations that took place around the table and out in the hot tub. He’s restocking the beer cooler. There is NON–Christian music on the stereo. You know Naughty Matt had a sick stereo with a kickin’ subwoofer. But he hadn’t heard of “Mercy Me” yet. He didn’t even know there were Christian radio stations. I want you to get a true picture of where Jesus was.
“MANY tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him and His disciples.” That’s the Bible’s way of saying JESUS WAS AT A NAUGHTY PEOPLE PARTY!
“And when the Pharisees saw this, they asked the disciples, ‘why is your teacher at the naughty people party?’” (Matthew 9:11 – my paraphrase)
It’s a valid question.
Why is it that Jesus would publically associate with sinners before they made any changes in their lives? It doesn’t feel right. This obviously isn’t the first time either. His reputation was, “Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!” (Luke 7:30) Doesn’t that make you uncomfortable?
I became friends with my “Matthew” at the health club. He was a former Hells Angel and his life was way more of “hell” than of “angel.” It was not easy working out with him for several reasons. For one, we didn’t exactly use the same amount of weight on the bar. But there was more. He used loud, bad, language, and gawked at, and commented on every woman in the place. Then there was the day he decided to work out with me in a horrendously inappropriate t-shirt from a strip club. I’m not sure there is an appropriate t-shirt from a strip club, but this one was particularly bad. It was offensive to me, and that takes a lot.
I tried to get him to turn it inside-out, but to no avail.
Most of the people at Body-Tech know who I am, half of them go to my church, and here I am working out with “Matt,” wearing this offensive t-shirt.
Do you know how I felt? Like Jesus.
Okay, not at first. I have to admit I felt a little embarrassed, and a little concerned for my reputation – and that’s when it dawned on me that Jesus felt like this all the time.
Jesus responded to the religious leaders who were not comfortable around sinners by saying, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Then He insults them, saying “But go and learn what this means.” (My paraphrase: “You are ignorant, go figure this out.”) Then He quotes a prophecy they know very well. ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” and He delivers the clincher, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)
The ramifications of this for church leaders is extreme. I don’t know about you, but until I started working out with Naughty Matt, I didn’t have a lot of “sick” people in my life. I work for a church. I’m with Christians most of the time. That’s my job. I’m more comfortable being surrounded by people who know how to dress appropriately at the health club. Sure, the church is supposed to be light in darkness, but not that dark. Whenever I teach from the Great Commission, it’s always about you people going into all the world to make disciples. I can’t go. I have to stay here and train you to do it.
“Matt” started coming to our church. Would he be welcome at yours?
What I wouldn’t give to have seen the reaction from the other disciples when Jesus asked Matthew to follow him. Don’t you know that there was a moment when they realized that if Matthew followed Jesus, it also meant joining them! These guys were mostly fishermen, so they were far from being at the top of the social ladder, but even fishermen look down on tax collectors. How excited they must have been the day Jesus asked Dr. Luke to join them
Nobody wants a selfie with a tax collector. Except Jesus.
If I’m supposed to be a disciple of Jesus, I should look like Him, right? Sure, it’s uncomfortable. I bet I have more expletive-laden text messages on my phone than the average sailor. People are going to talk when they see me with the gear head in the nasty shirt.
That’s probably a good sign that I’m looking more like Jesus.