Inviting a Sinner: Matthew 9:9-13

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As we continue in Matthew’s gospel, we come to an event that is probably the least surprising event to find in Matthew’s gospel, but one that I’m a little surprised Matthew puts as late as he does in his gospel. Perhaps this event came earlier and Matthew wants to minimize its significance, or perhaps Matthew was really one of the last disciples to join the group.

Our passage for this episode focuses in on Matthew describing his call to be a disciple, and in some ways, Matthew really downplays this event for the significance it probably had on his life. This event is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 9, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 9, Matthew tells us:

When Jesus was leaving, he saw a man named Matthew sitting in the tax collector’s booth. Jesus said to him, “Follow me,” and he stood up and followed Jesus.

10 As Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with Jesus and his followers. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked Jesus’ followers, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard them, he said, “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I want kindness more than I want animal sacrifices.’ I did not come to invite good people but to invite sinners.”

Let’s stop reading here because I want to draw our focus on several things that we have just read.

First, Jesus’ actual call for Matthew is very downplayed. The entire event is only one verse long. The first half of the verse sets the stage for Matthew’s invitation, and the second half is Jesus simply giving Matthew the challenge to follow. The verse concludes with Matthew standing up and following Jesus, with no hesitation or question.

Before moving on to what happened that evening, let’s look a little closer at Matthew’s invitation. While it is possible that Matthew was alone in the tax collector booth, this is unlikely. What is more possible is that there were at least one or two guards hired to assist and protect him. Tax collectors were hated people, and their presence reminded the people more than most things that they were not in a country owned by them. It also didn’t help that most tax collectors were corrupt, and it is likely that the corrupt tax collectors moved ahead faster and that they were praised rather than punished.

It is interesting in my mind the timing of when Matthew includes his call in relation to the events in his gospel. Matthew has already included three chapters focused on a powerful sermon, and several miracles. While it’s possible Matthew learned about this from the other disciples who were present for those events, I wonder if Matthew was a part of the crowd listening as Jesus shared this sermon, and that the Holy Spirit had been working on Matthew’s heart for a while.

Being called to be a follower of a Rabbi was a great honor, and Matthew knew that this likely was his only chance. While we don’t know the path that led Matthew to becoming a tax collector, Matthew’s quick response to Jesus’ call indicates that he would rather be doing something else. Matthew might have even studied to become a Rabbi’s disciple but ultimately was not chosen.

The logic behind this idea is because Matthew, more than any other gospel writer, draws our attention onto the prophecies in the Old Testament that Jesus fulfilled. Someone who studied to become a Rabbi’s disciple would be the most educated in Old Testament prophecy.

Moving to the events of that evening, we discover that Matthew hosts a dinner at his home, and he invites all his tax collector and other “sinners” friends over to meet Jesus. While we read this event and are quick to judge the Pharisees who are subtly judging Jesus’ actions, at this point in Jesus’ ministry, I don’t believe that the Pharisees as a group are as opposed to Jesus as they ultimately will be. In my mind, this group of Pharisees might have simply wanted to know Jesus’ motives for acting differently from every other religious teacher in that era.

However, it is also possible that the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples because they wanted more reasons to incriminate Jesus in their own minds. I don’t know if Jesus responded before the disciples had a chance to open their mouths, or if the disciples who were asked did not have an answer.

But the biggest phrase that is fascinating in my mind is Jesus’ opening to His response. In verse 12, Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard the question asked to His disciples about why He eats and socializes with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus replies first by saying: “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick.

While the rest of Jesus’ response summarizes Jesus’ reasoning, this opening could be seen by some to be an insult to those Jesus spent time with. Jesus’ opening could also be a subtle message to the Pharisees that Jesus’ focus would always be on those who need help, healing, and encouragement.

However, I wonder if Jesus was implying in His opening that the Pharisees who were asking the question were the healthy people in contrast to those who Jesus was eating with. I wouldn’t be surprised to think that this is what the Pharisees heard Jesus say. The Pharisees probably took Jesus’ opening to mean that they were healthy, and they saw Jesus’ message as a compliment.

But Jesus ultimately challenges them on one of God’s messages from the Old Testament, and with the idea that He came to invite sinners and not “good people”.

In the events surrounding Matthew’s invitation, we discover a window into Jesus’ focus for His ministry. Jesus came to help those who were sick, hurting, and who needed help, and Jesus came specifically to invite sinners to return to God. Jesus’ focus for His ministry was not on helping those who did not believe they needed help, on those who believed themselves to already be right with God, or on those who looked down on others.

Jesus lived His life from God’s perspective in His response. Jesus lived showing kindness more than demanding obedience. While obedience is important, kindness and God’s love is more central to God’s character. When we are being representatives for God, we are to above everything else, show God’s love and kindness to those He brings into our lives while we are personally being obedient to Him the best way we know how.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to model God’s love and His kindness to those who He brings in to your life. Jesus lived a life that was kind, compassionate, and loving to those who society had rejected, and He calls us to do the same. Don’t be surprised that when we live and love like Jesus, that those who are self-righteous will look down on us for who we are associating with, because those who were self-righteous in the first century looked down on Jesus too.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to keep your personal relationship with God strong and growing stronger. A personal connection with God will give you the right motives and love for helping those who God brings into your life, and when we’re connected with God, He will lead us to those who He knows need His love.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or deviate away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 16: Part way through Matthew’s gospel, we discover Matthew sharing about how Jesus met and invited him to be a disciple. Discover what we can learn from this event, and what Jesus teaches us about His mission and His focus while here on earth!

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