Jesus went up to a tax collector booth and asked this guy “Matthew” or “Levi” to follow him. Now tax collectors at this time were completely hated! They had the reputation that some (not all!) lawyers have today. Now there are good lawyers, but some have the reputation for being crooked. This is how tax collectors were in Jesus’ time. They extorted people for their money. And the Jews of the time especially disliked them because they were “in cahoots” with the Roman Empire- which ruled over the people of Israel (or the Jews).
But here’s this guy- a notorious bad character, a real problem, a real outcast to the religious elite, bad news, a real criminal. So Jesus comes up to him and says “Follow me” and he goes! Now I’m speculating here, but I think word about Jesus had really gotten around and this guy was at the end of his rope! So he leaves a dishonest job and a sinful life to become a disciple of Jesus!
So it seems like right after, Matthew invites Jesus over for dinner, and all his crooked buddies show up- “tax collectors and sinners”. Now this was by all means a crowd of rowdy people! We don’t know exactly what kind of people were there, but we know that they weren’t the typical church folk we normally see in American churches today. Okay, maybe most Christians live rowdy Monday through Saturday, but usually put on a pious front on Sunday. In the book of Luke it describes that Matthew had this dinner arranged in honor of Jesus. It seems like he wanted people to get to know Jesus! He was making it public, “hey, I’m following this guy- any of you wanna join me?”
So here come the Pharisees! Now for those of us that don’t know these guys were the perfect religious guys in their day. They were constantly making up extra rules outside of the Bible and basically trying to keep people that weren’t like them out of God’s temple. So they viewed a lot of these people that Jesus was with as “unclean” or unworthy of God’s forgiveness because they were so sinful. They also figured- hey! Jesus must be doing the same things as these people if he’s hanging out with them! They couldn’t put it together in their heads how someone could be around people like that, still love them & respect them but actually influence them for good & change or here comes a good Christian word- “repentance of sin!” But repentance is not a justification for all the garbage we do, its actually inviting God into our lives to change us for good. It’s only possible through Him. See, we need to remember as well that Jesus never sinned! “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Jesus didn’t fail like we do, but He did set up an example for us- to be in a world of people who sin, show compassion and love and truth and purity to them, and not participate in any destructive things they do while still capturing their hearts with the love of God and freedom that Jesus offers us all.
Now we have to love Jesus’ answer! He overhears the Pharisees talking to his disciples and questioning what Jesus is doing here. He tells them “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”.
So the Pharisees considered themselves healthy and “righteous”, but here, right in front of them, is the Son of God- and they won’t admit their need for him! So maybe it was they that were “spiritually sick” and in need of healing. But it’s funny, because it seems that these tax collectors & sinners- especially Matthew- did we mention he’s actually the one writing this story, and for that matter, this entire book of the Bible?- were more willing to acknowledge their sinful condition and ask for Christ’s saving power to heal them & lead them to “repent” of their sins.
But the fact is that we’re all sinners in need of Christ’s grace! We’re all those people at the table with Jesus trying to understand who He really is. We are all alike- sinners in need of God’s mercy, and it’s a good thing that we are, because Jesus has a prescription for people like you and I:
See, we can: go to bible study, tithe, attend church regularly, take communion, do charitable things, etc.- and still have no faith in Christ that will lead us to having true mercy and the love of God in our hearts. So Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to the Pharisees to remind them that God doesn’t want rituals to be a substitute for truly being righteous. And my friends, we all struggle with this. See I was with some good friends- and we were hanging out drinking coffee a couple weeks ago. We were having a conversation with this guy that was sitting close to us. At some point I just asked him- “do you think Jesus is out here in New England?” You know what he told me? He said, “no- people out here aren’t religious so I don’t think Jesus is out here- He’s more likely in the Bible belt or places like that, but not here”. So I responded and said, “I disagree with you- I think He’s more here in New England than anywhere”. The guy thought that was kind of weird! But we kept talking about other things and had a good conversation.
Friends, Jesus’ heart breaks for those that don’t know Him! But if I don’t step out in faith and follow Jesus in reaching out to “crazy folks” like myself (especially how I used to be), then I’ll become like the Pharisees- stubborn, proud, self-righteous, and unrepentant. What a chilling thought that is.