Tax Collectors and Sinners

Matthew 9:9-13
9As 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.
10And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.
11And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Many of us remember the “choosing sides” situation in grade school where the two team captains chose their teams from the pool of kids standing there waiting to be asked to play. It was brutal for those of us who had absolutely no skill whatsoever in sports. We (and by we, I mean me personally) were only chosen as a last resort. There simply wasn’t anyone else left. The experience left permanent scars! Later in life, when the game Trivial Pursuit came along, I was vindicated; chosen first every time as I have a whole head full of useless information.J Anyway, we all know what it means to be “chosen.” That is what Matthew tells about in our reading for today; the time when he was chosen by the Savior.

The telling is brief; just one verse and a very simple command. “Follow me.” Matthew’s response is instantaneous. He gets up from his tax collectors table and follows Jesus for the rest of his life. He is chosen and socially, he is the person standing in the back with no skills whatsoever. No one ever chooses Matthew. He is a hated tax collector. At that time, it is likely that tax collection was done by people who actually bid for the job. They would pay the Roman government ahead based on what the taxes collected in that area should be. As the tax collector had already paid the amount the people in his area owed, he now had to recoup his expense. This situation led to greed and “over” collection. It also means that Matthew was probably fairly wealthy, as he had to have the money for the taxes in advance.

After his surprising selection as a disciple of Jesus, he has invited Jesus home to meet his friends. Who would a tax collector hang out with? Other tax collectors. That means Jesus is sitting down at a social event (which meals were and still are) with “sinners”; people who are on the outside of acceptable society. Clearly, Jesus is not bothered by this situation, but the Jewish leadership finds it to be a problem. Why would he associate with these people if He wants to be a leader? Surely He must know that He is making a mistake.

But Jesus never made a mistake and His association with “sinners” happened all the time – and still does! Jesus associates with us every day! Each one of us is a “chosen” disciple and sinner. Only in Jesus are we transformed into believers and members of God’s Kingdom.