As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him. Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”Matthew 9:9-13
Matthew, the man who penned this gospel, was a Jew who chose to deal with Roman occupation through accomodation. He collected taxes for Rome, normally adding a little (or in some cases, a lot) to keep for himself. It wasn’t ideal, and his fellow Jews likely despised him for it. Peter, Andrew, James and John (Matthew 4:18-21) were already Jesus’ disciples, so his choice in Matthew was considered scandalous.
It aroused the hostility of the Pharisees for sure. They would never be seen eating with scum like this. But perhaps their social circles were a bit more sterile than what God demanded. Take a look at these scriptures written in 1400 B.C., 753-715 B.C. and 742-687 B.C. respectively.
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.Deuteronomy 10:12
I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.Hosea 6:6
What can we bring to the Lord? Should we bring him burnt offerings?Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves?Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.Micah 6:6-8
The heart of God is clearly seen in Jesus, as he reached out to those the establishment discarded. Jesus didn’t introduce the concept of mercy and love for all people. That was God’s idea and he’s been saying it for a really long time!
How about you? What do your gatherings look like? Do you stay in safe arenas or stretch beyond what might be comfortable? Have you ever been accused of eating with “scum?”