THIS MAN RECEIVES SINNERS
Saint Matthew Day
9 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. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with Him and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
1 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear Him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."
Like the tax collectors of old, employees of the Internal Revenue Service are not among America’s most highly esteemed sort of people. Not only are they subjects of dark humored jokes, but in real life they have to deal with a never-ending parade of irate citizens and blatant tax-cheaters. This I know because my own father was a Revenue Agent.
Of course we might all realize that today’s tax-people can’t realistically be likened to the class of unscrupulous profiteers that characterized the ancient Roman regime, but my family has also been struck with the curious coincidence that our dad’s birthday is the same day that the Church recognizes as St. Matthew’s Day! BOTH his profession and birthday link my father to Matthew in a way, then, but the only likeness that really matters, of course, is that he became a selected object of Christ’s attention and love as Matthew did. And no less is true for any of us! We each are the beneficiaries of the Lord’s perpetual desire that we finally enter the eternal glory He has prepared for us.
As we review a little of Matthew’s personal history, it’s God’s Heart shown to us in Christ’s words and action that we need to realize as being the truly critical element.
Matthew must have been leading a really miserable and empty life. He truly was hated by the common citizens, scorned by the religious elite, and no doubt was the victim of his own guilty conscience as well. It wasn’t only that he served the Romans (which was cause enough by itself for hating him in the public mind), but Matthew was one of that class of “unscrupulous profiteers.”
The place where he worked was a customs office near the border at Capernaum. It was on a major trade route much like a truck weighing station on one of today’s expressways. The usual manner of obtaining such a position was to outbid other scheming competitors also vying for it. So it’s highly likely that Matthew bought himself this coveted opportunity to fleece one’s own countrymen. The government prescribed a heavy tax for itself on imported goods, but the law was essentially silent as to what might be an appropriate commission for the worker appraising the goods coming through. Tax collectors typically gouged people, of course, enriching themselves with no thought or care of how it genuinely impoverished people.
That was the issue that especially fed the animosity towards “publicans,” as they were called. Everyone, including the tax collectors themselves, knew how despicable their thievery was, but no Israelite had the authority to stand up against it.
Such had been Matthew’s character when Jesus of Nazareth passed by and changed his whole life, inviting Matthew to follow Him. Luke’s Gospel gives a little more detail than Matthew’s own account of the episode. Luke relates that Matthew just left everything ... and rose and followed Jesus. Then furthermore we learn from Luke that Matthew provided this great feast at his own house where Jesus “sat at table” with him and a large company of tax collectors and others.
Matthew’s calling by Jesus has always been cherished by Christians as an example of Christ’s reaching out to even the worst lost and lowest of lives. It wasn’t that Jesus recognized some hidden but good quality for which Matthew deserved the privilege of associating with Him, but Matthew’s calling rather evidences the extent of the Lord’s mercy and His power to save.
THE PHARISEES, AND CHRIST’S RESPONSE TO THEM
Pharisees and scribes would never lower themselves to even enter the door of a person’s house like Matthew. His type was “unclean” to them, much like the lepers of the day who lived as outcasts. Matthew’s kind was not welcome in their company either, and especially not at the synagogue where only those considered as “righteous” could enter. The way they structured their own little society, in other words, prevented any help or hope to ever be extended towards sinners and the lost. There was a dividing line never to be crossed to reach out and save others.
But it certainly is an indictment of themselves that the Pharisees were snooping around right outside Matthew’s door so they could complain and gossip and pass judgment on him, on the other tax collectors and sinners, on the disciples, and finally but especially on Jesus Himself as well, implying His complicity in sin. It was a regular occurrence, Scripture shows, and Luke Chapter 15 opens with words that show it most clearly: “… the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
Jesus let the charge stand and responded with parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Prodigal Son about Heaven’s great joy over recovering the lost. At the time of Matthew's calling, Jesus responded by saying: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means (quoting Hosea): ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The Pharisees were the most respectable people in town judging by community standards, but by God’s standard they, too, fell far short. When they complained of Jesus receiving sinners, themselves being willing for such people to just continue in their sin and be lost forever, they showed how unmerciful they were in their hearts. And because of it, they too were unrighteous people in need of repentance and God’s mercy. They were sick people in need of a doctor.
It goes to show how Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Pastors and teachers, “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” One person’s righteousness compared to the next person’s is not the standard. GOD is! Were we to see God in this life face to Face in His unveiled Holiness, we would all “come undone” as Isaiah experienced. We would have to turn away as people had to when Moses came down from the holy mountain. Everyone needs Jesus for the healing of their souls!
So, Jesus received and ate with Matthew and his kind. He DID the very thing of which He stood accused. That doesn’t mean that He lowered Himself to be like them in their deeds. He came to save them from their deeds! He did not come to be like them in their sin, but to become their whole sin itself in His Body and Soul nailed to the Old Rugged Cross and forsaken by His Father in Heaven, and He likewise did it for every one of us!
Jesus bore the full onslaught of our eternally deserved sentence for sin, paying up the eternal sum of all God’s wrath at our sin. It was a miracle of miracles that He, the very Son of God, took on human flesh and became one of us in the first place. But then He furthermore took the deliberate, committed and calculated action of submitting to the slow, humiliating and torturous death by crucifixion.
He did it to show the mercy toward us that is the bottom-line desire of God’s Heart for all people. He was raised to life again by God’s power, having paid sin’s price, so that far beyond just earthly mercy we might be given eternal life! Though we may die one day, yet we too will be raised and all who believe in Jesus will come to everlasting life in Heaven.
JESUS DOES BEFRIEND SINNERS
Jesus befriended sinners! What Pharisees intended as a label of scorn is one of our cherished bywords for Him: “Friend of Sinners.” He will never turn away or exploit us. He will always keep a confidence. He forever cares about our needs. He came and found us, just like Matthew, even with all our blemishes and short-comings. When our failures burden us, Jesus declares His Peace. When we feel separated from God, He gives us open access to His Grace. When we suffer, He gives power, grace and hope to see us through. When we struggle, He strengthens. When we feel unloved, He pours His love into our hearts. He is always with us and will never leave or forsake us! WHAT A FRIEND!!!
This Man receives sinners! Once our Savior said: “Whoever comes to Me I will in no wise cast out.” When a certain woman came to Jesus and kissed His feet, bathing them with her tears and drying them with her hair, He graciously received her, even though a Pharisee grumbled that: “If this Man were a Prophet, He would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” When the ten lepers came to Jesus, He did receive and heal all of them, even though He knew nine would show no gratitude. When the thief on the cross turned to Him, Jesus received him and opened Paradise to him. When Peter who denied Him three times repentantly approached Jesus, he was gladly and lovingly restored to his Apostleship.
What more evidence do we need? This Man, God’s Son Jesus Christ, DOES receive sinners! And that Truth is for us a joyful incentive to follow the encouragement given in the book of Hebrews: “Let us ... with confidence draw near to the Throne of Grace, that we may RECEIVE MERCY and find Grace to help in time of need.”