The call of Matthew
The authority of Jesus
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” — Matthew 9:9–13 ESVUK
After another three miracles, we come to another interlude in this section of the Gospel. Matthew gets to the big call to follow Jesus. So who does Matthew opt for as the example? Himself.
Knowing Matthew’s background helps us to understand his bias in selecting stories about Jesus for his Gospel. Matthew was an outcast, a collaborator with an invading army, taking money from the people to give to an occupying force. People don’t like paying taxes at the best of times, to pay them to a foreign country, well…
Matthew was also likely a cheat and a thief, If he wasn’t then some of those tax collectors eating with Jesus would have been. Tax collection worked this way: A tax collector would agree to collect a certain amount of money for the Romans, the Romans were not interested in how it was gathered. Corruption was built into the system. When the Pharisees called them “tax collectors and sinners” they had it dead right. It would be hard to find anyone further from God’s holy law than the tax collector. Jesus does not argue with that, he can’t.
Matthew was one of society’s outcasts. An outcast that Jesus asked to follow him. Matthew’s bias is towards the outcasts of society. Foreigners were the visitors to infant Jesus whilst the government tried to kill him, the first three miracles that Matthew reports Jesus doing are to outcasts, a leper, a foreigner and a woman. Matthew is biased.
But a bias is only a problem if it is wrong, Matthew knew that Jesus was biased to the outcast because he, an outcast, had been called by Jesus. Matthew had reported Jesus saying that he had come to call not the righteous but sinners because he, a sinner, had been called. Matthew is biased because Jesus is biased, Jesus is biased to the outcast because God is biased to the outcast. The message of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus is the same as the message of Jesus who from the beginning said, “Repent.”
Jesus did not come to build a church of the right kind of people, good people like us who eat at the right restaurants and are members of the right clubs. Jesus came to build a church of the wrong kind of people—outcasts. People like Matthew and his friends.
One thing we can be sure about if we build barriers between ourselves and other people, Jesus is on the other side of the barrier. Like the Pharisees who separated themselves from the tax collectors, you will find Jesus on their side of the divide.