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
One of the recurring themes throughout the gospel of Matthew is the theme of reconciliation and restoration. Additionally, we see repeatedly how when Jesus fulfills this missionary mandate, He is met with resistance from the religious elites. And Matthew himself was no stranger to being an outcast in his own society. Tax collectors across the Roman Empire were often despised by their local communities – much the same as they are today even. However, as tax collectors were handsomely rewarded by their Roman overlords for their meticulous, and often excessive, collection of revenues, local communities would often look at tax collectors as traitors to their own people – parasitic leeches living off the fruits of the labor of others.
And this colored the perspective of the Pharisees who prejudiciously viewed tax collectors as cheats and traitors, thus classifying them as societal “sinners”. The truth of the matter we don’t know how much tax collectors cheated their charges, but the fact that they served a foreign occupier in deference to their own people was sufficient reason for their shunning.
But Jesus, as He always does, looks past the circumstances and status and offers grace and restoration, much to the consternation of the Pharisees. Jesus had already been criticized by the scribes and experts of the law for forgiving sin. Now the Pharisees, the elite priests and teachers of the law of Moses, criticize Him for relating to the outcasts.
We have seen this attitude play itself out all too often in today’s society, most especially in the intersection of faith and politics. We find ourselves divided in the camps of red and blue, each shouting down the other as out of touch, reprobates, and sometimes worse. In each camp, members are more concerned about furthering their agendas than fostering reconciliation and relationship. Each camp has different ideas of how to address the common problems we both see, but one camp sees it as a problem for the government to fix while others see it as a problem for private individuals to address. Is it possible that there is somewhere in the middle where both could be right? To hear the rhetoric from both camps, one would think there isn’t any common ground upon which we can stand. As a result, the dividing wall of separation continues to stand stronger than ever before, but I digress.
It should come as no surprise that Jesus would quote from the prophet Hosea to His critics in this circumstance. He directly quotes the first part of Hoses 6:6, but I believe He intentionally left out the second part of the same sentence and when you read it, you can easily see why:
“For I desire steadfast love [mercy] and not sacrifice,Hosea 6:6
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
To know God is to love Him; to love Him is to desire to know Him more. This is first and foremost on the heart of God the Father – a restored relationship with His children. This is why Paul referred to his ministry as a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Our number one mission in this world is to restore relationships between mankind and God as well as between each other. The heart of the gospel is redemption and restoration.
As we enter into this festive holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I challenge you to seek opportunities to restore broken relationships. I challenge you see opportunities for redemption at the foot of the cross. I challenge you to humbly set aside your pride and prejudices and seek reconciliation in the name of the Father of grace.
Above is a video from Season 1 of The Chosen, available in your mobile device app store, showing a creative take on the call of Matthew. The attitudes I described before are prevalent in this scene, but are also setup in earlier episodes. I encourage you to download the app today and experience this unique presentation of the life of Christ and His disciples in your app store today.