Monday 21 September 2020

Bible Book:

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ (v. 11)

Matthew 9:9-13 Monday 21 September 2020

Psalm 119:65-72 


No one likes being labelled – particularly when that label suggests that there is something wrong with you. Today the label, ‘sinner’ seems a little old fashioned, so we might need to do some work to imagine ourselves back into today’s story and to understand what it felt like to have other sneer at you as a ‘tax collector and sinner’.

There is a gap in our knowledge here – although plenty of scholars and preachers have confidently filled it. We know that tax collectors were particularly unpopular in Palestine in Jesus’ day but not why so we can only make tentative suggestions. Of course, paying taxes is often unpopular, even when we know they make a vital contribution to our public services, but what about Roman Palestine meant that a tax collector was automatically seen as a sinner? It might have something to do with the frustration of seeing your taxes go to an occupying power or the belief that tax collectors were gaining by collaborating with the hated Romans while others suffered. The story of Zacchaeus (another tax collector) talks about paying back those who had been cheated (Luke 19:1-10) and there may have been a general assumption that tax collectors always charged more than they should.

We also do not really have a definition of ‘sinner’. It is clear throughout the Gospels that some people were labelled as ‘sinners’ and that Jesus was criticised for welcoming them. We do not have clear explanation of what those people had done – what was it about their lifestyle which caused others to disapprove of them so strongly? What we do know is that the religious leaders of the day often raised the objection that Jesus ate with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ and Jesus was happy to turn the argument back against them – on one occasion he assured them that “tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:31). There is plenty of room here for us to ponder what it means in our day to ‘welcome tax collectors and sinners’.


To Ponder:

  • Put yourself in the place of Matthew. You are actually sitting at your tax collection booth when Jesus calls you. What would be your first response?
  • Who does society label today and what can we do to welcome them in the name of Christ?


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