Matthew 9:9-13; Tax Collectors and Pharisees

Let’s call this an elliptical pericope because it has two foci. Some of you will get that, and some of you won’t. Those who don’t get it should probably be more proud of themselves than those who do.

Jesus calls one of the despised tax collectors, Matthew, to follow him. This call is similar to the call of the fishermen and I take it to be a call to close discipleship, to be one of the Twelve. Any commentary will give you a list of reasons that tax collectors were despised, but those reasons did not slow Jesus down.

It looks like there was a party celebrating this new disciple, probably hosted by Jesus or one of the disciples. Naturally, Matthew’s (former) colleagues were invited, or at least showed up. Can you imagine what it would have been like to attend a dinner party with Jesus? The talk must surely have been kingdom-oriented.

You have to imagine a public or semi-public setting for the dinner. Privacy is for moderns; there wasn’t much of it in the first century. The dinner came to be noticed by a group of Pharisees.

I try to not be too hard on the Pharisees. Yes, Jesus gave them a lot of grief, but it seems like they were the closest to the kingdom of all the first century Jews. They were serious, even hyper-serious, about the law. They were separatists, in that they did not want to incur uncleanness. They extended the priestly rules to themselves and others. They were pointed generally in the right direction, but a little misguided.

They would not have eaten with this group of tax collectors and sinners, and they wondered why Jesus would.

Jesus answers with his famous saying about the sick and the well and about who needs a doctor. And he gives them an assignment to go home and think about, quoting Hosea.

Do our churches, on a Sunday morning, look more like a group of Pharisees or a group of Jesus, disciples, and sick people?

Jesus did not disparage the law. But he had his priorities. Doing his mission of the kingdom was the highest priority. We need to set our own priorities accordingly.

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