Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV): As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The fact is, Jesus frequently hung out with people of a type that scandalized “good church people” like the Pharisees. When Matthew the tax collector (a HUGE sinner in the eyes of many at the time) began to follow Jesus, leaving behind all of the sin in his life, he wanted to celebrate and to introduce his friends to this new Friend who was changing his life. And, because of who he had been, his friends mainly consisted of other tax collectors and other “sinners.” Jesus could have told Matthew, “You know, now that you belong to Me, you have to stop hanging out with your old friends. They’ll just pull you back into your old lifestyle of sin,” and refused to allow the party. But the fact is, the party wasn’t for the purpose of “hanging out;” it was so that Matthew could introduce these old sinful friends of his to the One who had given him a new life.
Jesus as people who go to a hospital don’t do it to celebrate their sickness, but in the hope of getting well, so this gathering was not the rowdy, bawdy assembly often depicted in movies. These people, like the people of Sychar at the Samaritan woman’s urging (John 4:228-30), had come to see the Messiah in the hope of finding healing for the sickness of their souls. They had come because of the words and the transfigured countenance of Matthew, and they wanted for themselves this new life that he had found.
The Pharisees couldn’t see this. They couldn’t see past their own scruples. They were like a person who is unable to see the cures that are worked in people’s lives in a hospital, and who won’t go into one because “it’s full of sick people.” Of course it is! That’s where they find healing for their bodies so that they can come forth whole and healthy again. Of course Matthew’s house was full of sinners! That’s because that’s where Jesus was! It was where they all hoped to find healing for their souls so that they could come forth spiritually whole and healthy again.
No one came to the Pharisees to be cured for sickness of soul. That’s not who they were; that’s not what they did. The Pharisees were a religious “club” for those who considered themselves righteous, healthy. They wouldn’t have anything to do with sinners for fear of contamination. But Jesus never worried about contamination. He never became dirty, because He had the power to make clean. He could touch a leper without any fear of contamination – the leper simply became clean in an instant (cf. Matthew 8:1-3).
It is vital for God’s people to understand that we have been given the same authority, and have been tasked with this same mission as Jesus. When we receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord, the whole Trinity comes to live in our heart. We receive power to be a witness to the soul-changing, soul-cleansing power that changed our own lives, as well as receiving the power to lead people into the same cleansing relationship with Jesus that we now have. Far from refusing to associate with sinners for fear of contamination, it is actually a big part of our job description to hang out with them ON PURPOSE. Not just to hang out, but to actively and intentionally share our new life with them, and to help them to receive that same new life for themselves. And if we will do that intentionally, we never have to worry about being re-contaminated by sin; we will be able to help them to become clean instead.
Father, this is an amazing promise that I have personally seen in operation. Thank You for this power and authority. Thank You for giving us Your life to carry with us in our hearts, so that we can bring spiritual life and health and holiness to everyone who wants it – to those who need it the most. Help us to never pull back from those You have sent us to. Help us to never keep to ourselves for fear of contamination. Instead, help us to follow Your lead into the darkest of places, so that we can flood them with Your light. Amen.