By Jason Bowman
When Jesus called a tax collector named Matthew to be his disciple, he took a huge risk. It may be difficult for us to grasp how radical and scandalizing this would have been. People despised tax collectors. These miserly officials collaborated with the government and at times the aristocracy to extort the common person of their livelihood. People had such contempt for tax collectors, they compared them to lepers who made any home they entered unclean. It made no sense to invite a tax collector to join your mission. The tax collector’s reputation alone would damage your credibility as a spiritual leader and might curtail any momentum your new religious movement had gained.
This does not stop Jesus. He walks up to Matthew’s tax booth and says, “Follow me” (Matt 9:9). He gives no explanation for this action, offers no apology and provides no defense of Matthew as a person who might somehow be better than other tax collectors and so worthy of joining Jesus. The religious leaders respond like we would expect. They question the validity of Jesus and his ministry. I wonder if this decision to call a tax collector also raised questions among Jesus’ own disciples. They did not like tax collectors any more than others in their society. Matthew’s tax booth was even on a lake (Mark 2:13-14), which means the fishermen in Jesus’s crew might have personally dealt with him.
Why take this chance? Why make this controversial move? Jesus explains it this way: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matt 9:12). Jesus did not come to start a successful company. He did not teach and heal in order to become a celebrity. He came to seek the lost and give his life as a ransom to bring salvation. Jesus accepted that calling Matthew to be one of his disciples would provoke the religious leaders, disturb some of his own followers and tarnish his status, but he also knew it would help fulfill his mission.
Right after calling Matthew, Jesus has dinner at his house with “many tax collectors and sinners” (Matt 9:10). Jesus not only saved one sinner in Matthew, but got connected to other sinners whom he could invite into the Kingdom. Jesus stepped right into the opportunity to be with people others rejected. Matthew took the opportunity to invite those typically not welcome in religious contexts. In the end, Jesus gladly risked his reputation to fulfill the will of his Father to bring healing and salvation to sinners.
Matthew knows he is not a pious religious leader with a perfect life. He is a sinful person, but Jesus still wanted to know him and be part of his life. Matthew also understands it is not just him. If Jesus would embrace Matthew when others might not, surely Jesus would do the same for people Matthew knew. So, Matthew threw a party and invited everyone!
Knowing Jesus desires to be in relationship with people that you know, how might you, like Matthew, create opportunities or make invitations for them to meet Jesus?
The religious leaders rejected and debased certain people. Jesus on the other hand embraced these same people. Are their times you act like the religious leaders by looking down on certain people or not bothering to consider inviting them to know Jesus? Pray and ask God to change your heart and look for ways to reach out to those you might normally reject.