21 September 2015Matthew 9:9-13
“For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (v. 13)
Psalm: Psalm 119:65-72
It may seem an obvious question, 'What have the Pharisees got against tax collectors?', but the people's problem is deeper than simply a dislike of handing over money to the state. To be a Jewish tax collector in the time of Matthew was to be both a traitor and an idolater: a traitor because you were collecting money for the enemy; an idolater because the coins used bore the image of Caesar who claimed to be God. In some ways the second of these was the more serious. For Matthew and his fellow tax collectors were, as a result, excluded from the religious and social life of their own faith community. By accepting their hospitality Jesus was breaking the fundamental rules of religious purity and risking exclusion himself.
Jesus' mission to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24), is a repeating theme. Jesus' approach to that mission represents a radical shift from an older understanding of purity in which the impure corrupted the pure (cf Leviticus!) to the new order in which contact with Jesus is healing and purifying (eg Matthew 8:1-4). In Matthew 18:15-20 we are given a set of rules for how we should treat people who get it wrong. The levels of rebuke rise as the person remains stubborn until finally you read, "Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector". You wonder if Matthew sees the words of Jesus as simply ironic - Matthew does have a complicated CV. Either way, the point is made more clearly in Matthew 18:22, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times".
- How might Jesus approach the complicated and messy parts of your life that make your relationship with God and others more difficult?
- How might we view "sinners and tax collectors" (v. 10), in our society - and thus behave towards them?