Matthew 9:10-13 (NIV) 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.”
Matthew left his job when Jesus invited him to follow Him. But his old life wasn’t simply abandoned; it was transformed.
The first thing that Matthew did was to hold a dinner party, to which he invited lots of his old friends and business associates. Jesus had changed Matthew’s whole life through His call, and he wanted everyone he knew to meet Him and get to know Him.
Jesus gladly accepted the invitation. After all, these were exactly the kinds of people that he had come to reach with the good news of the kingdom: the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), spiritually bankrupt people, who knew that they didn’t have a leg to stand on in God’s presence, and who hungered and thirsted for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Even though they had largely been written off by the religious leaders, they had not been written off by God.
But Jesus wasn’t there to party with these people. This dinner was not a party. Instead, as they ate together, all eyes were on Jesus, and all ears were focused on what He was telling them about God’s kingdom – the kingdom into which He was inviting them.
The Pharisees, as usual, were focused on entirely the wrong thing. They didn’t even notice the room full of focused and expectant faces, all looking at Jesus as He taught them about God’s love and grace that was being extended to them. All that they could see was that Jesus had willingly entered the home of a tax collector – an action that they saw as imparting uncleanness to any holy man. And not only that, but Jesus was eating this man’s food, and sitting with and eating with a whole house full of even worse sinners! They believed that it was the responsibility of anyone who claimed to be truly godly to separate themselves from anyone or anything that could corrupt them, but Jesus was doing exactly the opposite!
Their question to Jesus’ disciples was accurately captured by Matthew, who couldn’t help but hear it as it was spoken loudly and angrily right outside the window of his house. When you add the tone of voice that they used in asking it, though, it actually sounded like: “Why in the world is your teacher eating with people like that; tax collector and (ugh) sinners?! What does He think He’s doing?!”
Jesus also heard the question as it was being asked, and was more than just a little irritated by the attitude of these men. He looked right at them and answered their question. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I am here with these people because their souls are sick and they are dying from it. So I have come to them to provide healing, and life, and a restored relationship with God – something that the truly righteous don’t need from me. So, yes, I am eating with tax collectors and sinners to bring transformation into their lives, something that you are apparently too good for. But I have a homework assignment for you. Go to the prophet Hosea, and figure out what God meant when He moved the prophet to write, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).” Then come back and let’s talk.
In saying this, Jesus really struck a nerve with these men. They knew that Hosea had prophesied to a people who were very good at the externals of their religion. Their sacrifices were made on time, and exactly according to the rules. But their hearts were hard and merciless, betraying the fact that they were actually very far from the God to whom their sacrifices were directed. So, through Hosea, God challenged them to changed their perspective. God would rather have hearts that are soft, filled with love and mercy toward their fellow man, than all the sacrifices in the world. Because hearts like that would not only have love for others, but genuine love for God as well.
Father, once again, Jesus truck right at the heart of the issue. A heart that is harsh and judgmental toward those whom You are trying to reach and to save is a heart that is far from You, no matter how many church services and Bible studies that they attend. Help us, Lord, to truly see these lost ones the way that You see them, and to allow Your love to so infuse our hearts that we no longer focus on their uncleanness and sin, but on their lost souls that matter so much to You. Amen.