22 September 2014

Matthew 9:9-13

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (v. 13)


As Jesus was 'out and about' teaching and healing, he saw a tax collector called Matthew and invited him to become a disciple. Jesus particularly noticed and prioritised those who were on the edge of the acceptable Jewish community and sought them out. People like Matthew were despised because they were suspected of collecting more than was due and being unduly wealthy because of this. In our day some have put bankers in this category. But there are other groups we stigmatise, what about traffic wardens?

Jesus shared food and hospitality with such people and 'sinners', and this brought him much criticism. Sinners may have been those who had flagrantly disobeyed the religious laws, or had been lax in their observance of food laws, or ritual baths, or people whose profession violated the law because their business involved lending with interest.

Jesus sharing food became a hallmark of Christian hospitality. It was the visible demonstration of God's generous invitation to all people to share in a foretaste of God's heavenly banquet prepared for all people at the end of time. However, it was a flagrant disregard for the Jewish purification laws and brought Jesus criticism. Instead of being a religious ascetical prophet like John the Baptist and simple in his lifestyle, he was thought by some to be too extravagant and joyful.

When the Pharisees criticised him and belittled him to his disciples, Jesus declared that those who were healthy had no need of a doctor. It was the sick that needed a doctor to make them well. Tax collectors like Matthew may have been rich, not poor, but they too were invited into the kingdom.

In verse 13, Jesus quotes from the Old Testament prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:6) and sent the Pharisees away to contemplate what God meant in desiring mercy, not sacrifice. At the heart of the nature of God is mercy, and generous forgiveness. The Pharisees had a system of sacrifices as a God-given means of restitution for violations of the law, but risked losing God's spirit of generous mercy.

Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners demonstrated God's radical priority of showing mercy, forgiving people and therefore fulfilling the requirements of the law in the loving of one's neighbour.

To Ponder

  • Make a quick mental list of those who are considered unacceptable for various reasons in our society. Why are they unacceptable? Do you think the Church also considers them unacceptable? Or does it have a different list?
  • What healing would be required to enable individuals in the groups you have identified to follow Jesus? In what ways would it cause controversy? (Matthew is a named individual in a despised group.)
  • How does the call of Matthew challenge your discipleship? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Jenny Ellis

Jenny is a Methodist minister and this year has permission to study, as well as work alongside a rural chapel to help it find a new physical presence and sense of mission in its village. She is leading a number of quiet and study days.