As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Jesus passed by a tax collector named Matthew who by his profession was hated and looked down upon by the Children of Israel, especially the Pharisees. Taxes levied on the people by a foreign government who ruled over them with an iron fist, was viewed as sin; and citizens of Israel who would stoop so low to take on such an unethical job were the worst type of sinners. Yet Jesus singled him out and called Matthew to follow Him. What a beautiful picture of the love of God, which rescues us even when we are perceived as low down by the world, and even in our own eyes, due to persistent reinforcement.
Without hesitation Matthew the tax collector heeded the call and followed the Savior. I wonder what went through Matthew’s mind when Jesus entered his house and sat at his table? No religious leader had ever done that, which made the compassion of Jesus stand out to Matthew personally, but also those who were in the same situation as he was. This act of kindness and compassion caused other tax collectors and sinners to follow Jesus. He said “Follow Me” to Matthew alone, yet many others just like him followed also. Why?
When people see love and compassion at work, they are drawn towards it. Especially if their daily experience is that of rejection and being despised. The word of the LORD is clear in Jeremiah 31:3 — The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you. Because we are loved by the LORD, loving kindness draws us to Him. Although Jesus spoke to one individual, and yet He drew many more with lovingkindness.
Despite this show of lovingkindness, those who confessed to know God maintained their distance between the outcasts of society, and Jesus. Which is evident by their language — Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The Pharisees wanted nothing to do with Jesus, so they referred to Him as “your Teacher” when speaking to the disciples of Jesus. They looked right past the compassionate act that was in progress, and referred to those sitting at the table with Jesus as sinners, because they were unable to disassociate the deeds of the tax collectors from their humanity. Aren’t you glad that Jesus is not like that? He is able to look beyond our faults, and see our needs through eyes of love and compassion.
While sitting at the table with sinners, Jesus gives perspective to the Pharisees which they lacked, when He said: But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” First of all, he rebuked them for reading the scriptures and not doing what was required of them according to scripture [But go and learn what this means]. Then He calls out their lack of understanding of mercy as a higher priority than sacrifice. Religious rites cannot cover mercy towards God’s creation for whom Jesus entered the world to seek and to save from their sins. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? [Matthew 18:12]
May we hear Jesus say “Follow Me” today, as we see those who are straying through the eyes of love and compassion. After all, our GOD desires mercy not sacrifice. Jesus Christ did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.