21 September 2012

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (v. 13)


This is quite a familiar passage, and so it's always important to not presume that we recall exactly what is going on within the story and within the text. I don't know how you have read this story in the past, and what you understand to be happening in Matthew's house. I'd always assumed (perhaps from films and animated versions of this passage, perhaps from a lazy reading of the text) that when Jesus and his disciples arrived at Matthew's home, it was already filled with people of whom the Pharisees disapproved. But actually the story doesn't make much sense if we read it as such. It actually says that while Jesus was there, lots of other people turned up. So, instead of Jesus going to them, they came to him: so it's important to acknowledge that the most likely thing that has happened is that all sorts of different kinds of people were in the procession that seemed to follow Jesus around, and it is from these people that the characters in this scene are comprised. How and why else would Pharisees happen upon this scene that they regarded with such distain? They too must have been in the procession that followed at a distance, or at least saw the movement towards Matthew's house of a large group, heading towards Jesus.

Anyway, Jesus is invited or invites himself for dinner at Matthew's home, which is probably the kind of house that you'd expect a tax collector who had been making a profit to have. Because of Matthew's new lifestyle choice, and Jesus' insistence that lots of different kinds of people aren't turned away, we soon have a collection of a huge variety of people from all around the city. This seems to be precisely the type of situation that Jesus thrives in (we are often told about him in similar places), and so we have his oft quoted proclamation that he 'hasn't come for the healthy' (verse 12).

This amazing group of people shows in one quick glance who Jesus is happy to be amongst, and the answer has to of course be that Christ wants to be alongside every single one of us, for none of us are without need of a doctor, and none should therefore be classified as 'healthy'. We may want to avoid this word, for it might suggest to us that sinfulness or mistakes that we make lead us to be counted as sick, but the analogy should not be taken that far. We can happily say that Jesus' mission can and does impact on all of us, and so no-one should turn their nose up at Jesus helping another, for we could just as easily be considered unworthy of his presence. And therefore, we too need his help, his guidance, his love and his presence in our lives. That's why there was a stream of people heading for Matthew's house, and probably is why the Pharisees were there too, although they probably wouldn't have expressed it in those terms!

To Ponder

  • Who might you be called to exist alongside?
  • What in your Christian life is attractive to others?

Bible notes author: Jon Curtis

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