Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13
Make the Stranger Welcome
Have you ever felt like a stranger? Has someone reached out to you, to make you feel welcome? What happened?
At some point in our lives, we have been the stranger, the person who is out of his or her comfort zone and whose presence challenges the comfort zone of others. In those moments, only two choices remain: welcome or alienation. The warm bridge or the cold shoulder can come from either side. But the situation only requires one person to move, toward or away from the other.
In those awkward moments, Jesus always took the initiative. He always made others feel welcome, no matter how much they stood on the outside. This was his way to bring the Kingdom alive!
At home in Capernaum, Jesus healed a paralyzed man.
9 After that, Jesus left. Then he saw Matthew sitting in a tax office."Follow me!" he said to the tax man. Matthew stood up and followed Jesus.
10 Then Jesus went to a banquet. Many tax collectors and outsiders shared the meal with Jesus and his followers. 11 When the Pharisees saw what happened, they complained to Jesus' followers, "Why does your Teacher share meals with tax collectors and outsiders?"
12 Jesus overheard their question. "Healthy people don't need a doctor. The sick do!" Jesus said. "Go and learn what the Bible saying means, 'I don't just want people's worship. I want them to treat others with compassion!.' I didn't come to help the good people. I came to help outsiders turn to God!"
These verses from Matthew's gospel can be divided into three sections: the call of Matthew, the objection of the Pharisees to Jesus' ministry, and his response.
9 Passing (along) from there, JESUS saw a man sitting at a tax table, called Matthew, and (HE) said to him, "Follow me." Having stood up, he followed HIM.
9:9 "a man sitting at a tax table" The tax table was a official place to collect individual taxes and business tolls (like a tax office). Sitting indicated a place of judgment (an official who "sat in" judgment).
In the verses that preceded the call of Matthew, Jesus cured the paralytic. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated his power to forgive sin. In other words, he could reconcile sinners with God. His actions, of course, caused scandal among the Pharisees.
Now Jesus would seek the immoral and the outcast. So, Jesus called Matthew, a despised tax collector. The local populace hated tax collectors for two reasons. First, the Romans established tax franchises to local citizens. In the eyes of their countrymen, collecting taxes for a foreign occupying power turned these tax men into traitors.
Second, the Romans allowed tax collectors to greatly enrich themselves above the amount Rome required. And the Romans backed these tax collectors with the power of the law. In other words, tax collectors could (and did!) embezzle a fortune from the common people. So the people saw tax collectors as cheats.
When Jesus called Matthew, Matthew stood up and left his livelihood to follow the Lord. The call of Jesus led to Matthew's conversion. No longer did Matthew stand as a traitor and a cheat to the people. He would follow the One who would usher in the Kingdom!
While we might not be called to leave our homes or occupations to follow Jesus, his call demands personal change. How has Jesus called you? How has he changed you?
10 It happened (that JESUS) was reclining in a house, and Look! many tax collectors and sinners were reclining together with Jesus and his disciples. 11 Having seen, the Pharisees said to HIS disciples, "Why does your TEACHER eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
9:10 "JESUS was reclining in a house" In the time of Jesus, Jews had adopted the Greek position of dining. People lay on their left sides around a low table and dipped bread into common dishes with their right hands.
"a house" The owner of the house can not be determined. Two possible owners could be Matthew or Jesus.
"Look! many tax collectors and sinners were reclining together with Jesus and his disciples." Matthew used the emphatic phrase "Look!" to make the point Jesus and his followers shared table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners.
"Sinners" were not only people who lived immoral lives. In the broader sense, Jews called anyone who lived outside Judaism proper, "sinners." Hence, Gentiles and outcasts from the community were "sinners."
Jesus acted in a way that caused scandal. He went out of his way to reach everyone, including the sick, the outsiders, and the misfits. And he included them in his circle of friends.
The dispute between the Pharisees and Jesus turned on this point. While Jesus and his followers were outsiders, the Pharisees were insiders. They extolled a lifestyle so faithful to God's Law they "built a fence around the Torah" with their rules and regulations. Their goal was to be "holy, as God is holy." (Leviticus 11:44) In this case, "holy" meant "unique" as well as "undefiled." Jews were to live as a "people set apart" for God. (1 Kings 8:53) The lifestyle the Pharisees taught meant separation from those who did not live God's Law. And total concentration on living his Law. They implicitly had an "us" vs "them" mentality. No wonder they asked the question about Jesus!
Jesus didn't mind getting himself "dirty" with the outsiders. While he honored and kept the Jewish Law, he did not mind making himself "unkosher" in the eyes of the Pharisees for the good of those he served. As much as the Pharisees defined themselves as exclusive, Jesus became inclusive. He reached out to the undesirable and the untouchable. He wanted to bring them into the Kingdom.
How has Jesus helped you to reach out to others? Especially those not like you?
12 But (JESUS,) having heard, said, "The (ones) being strong (in health) do not have need of a doctor, but the (ones) doing poorly (have need). 13 Going (away), learn what is (meant by) 'I want mercy, not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
9:12 "doing poorly" is literally "having badly."
9:13 'I want mercy, not sacrifice' is from Hosea 12:7. Hosea criticized the priestly establishment who led the people in hollow worship, while they dealt in corrupt practices. Such worship and practices caused cynicism among the populace. Ironically, the Pharisees would have used this verse against the Sadducees (the party of the Temple elite in Jerusalem) for the same reason.
Jesus responded to the Pharisees' question with three statements: a medical analogy, a verse from the prophet Hosea and a statement of intent. Notice the medical analogy and statement of intent "sandwich" the scripture verse. Both set up contrasts: the healthy/righteous on one hand, the sick/sinner on the other. Since the contemporaries of Jesus drew a causal relation between sin and sickness, the contrast between Jesus and the doctor made some sense. After all, Jesus did forgive the sins of the paralytic in the previous narrative (Matthew 9:2-6)! So, he was the "doctor" to the sinners.
As the note above mentioned, Jesus used a scripture verse the Pharisees treasured against them. The Pharisees sighted the verse from Hosea to criticize the Temple elite. At the heart of their critique was the question: what did God prize more, prayer or compassion? Obviously, the religious lifestyle required both. But when prayer and worship overshadow the good of others, there was an imbalance. When Jesus quoted Hosea to the Pharisees, he posed the same challenge, but a different context. This time, the people were not the oppressed faithful, but the outsiders. Was God just the Lord of the faithful? Or was he God of all, for all? This was the question Jesus laid at the feet of the Pharisees.
Jesus told his opponents to act with compassion: the call to treat others, no matter how different, with respect and love. How have you acted with compassion? How has Jesus helped you treat the stranger or the weak with respect?
When Jesus called Matthew, he defined his ministry. Jesus reached out to those proper society disdained. In doing so, he did not compromise his values for the Kingdom. He exercised them. After all, God's reign is for all, not the elite or the pious or the moral.
Jesus challenges us to do the same. To reach out. To show respect. To gather into the Kingdom.
How will you reach out to others this week? Choose two or three people and make a plan to show them the respect Christ shows you.