The Calling of Matthew
SHORTLY after healing the paralytic, Jesus goes out from Capernaum to the Sea of Galilee. Again crowds of people come to him, and he begins teaching them. As he walks on, he sees Matthew, who is also called Levi, sitting at the tax office. “Be my follower,” is Jesus’ invitation.
Likely, Matthew is already familiar with Jesus’ teachings, even as were Peter, Andrew, James, and John when they were called. And like them, Matthew immediately responds to the invitation. He gets up, leaves his responsibilities as a tax collector behind, and follows Jesus.
Later, perhaps to celebrate the receiving of his call, Matthew holds a big reception feast in his house. In addition to Jesus and His disciples, former associates of Matthew are present. These men are generally despised by their fellow Jews because they collect taxes for the hated Roman authorities. Moreover, they often dishonestly exact more money from the people than the regular tax rate.
Observing Jesus at the feast with such persons, the Pharisees ask his disciples: “Why is it that your teacher eats with tax collectors and sinners?” Overhearing the question, Jesus answers the Pharisees: “Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do. Go, then, and learn what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”
Apparently, Matthew has invited these tax collectors to his home so that they can listen to Jesus and receive spiritual healing. So Jesus associates with them to help them attain a healthy relationship with God. Jesus does not despise such ones, as do the self-righteous Pharisees. Rather, moved with compassion he, in effect, serves as a spiritual physician to them.
Thus Jesus’ exercise of mercy toward sinners is not a condoning of their sins but an expression of the same tender feelings he manifested toward the physically ill. Recall, for example, when he compassionately reached out and touched the leper, saying: “I want to. Be made clean.” May we likewise show mercy by helping persons in need, especially assisting them in a spiritual way. Matthew 8:3; 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32.
▪ Where is Matthew when Jesus sees him?
▪ What is Matthew’s occupation, and why are such persons despised by other Jews?
▪ What complaint is made against Jesus, and how does he respond?
▪ Why does Jesus associate with sinners?