9 As Jesus continued on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. 10 As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.
11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice [Hosea 6:6]. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”
Sometimes it’s the only meal we hear about, but Jesus did not eat just one “Last” supper. The gospels often show him at meals. Unlike many rabbis, he did not limit his table fellowship only to people regarded as “good.” He regularly shocked and upset the religious leaders, not just by calling people like the tax collector Matthew to follow him, but then joining him and all his (disreputable) friends for a meal. Such meals, like the communion meal, celebrated his grace and forgiveness.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. As I live in the light and life of your grace, give me a heart that has a welcoming mercy for all my fellow sinners. Amen.
* Brennan Manning, A Glimpse of Jesus: The Stranger to Self-Hatred. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003, p. 53.
** Hans Küng, On Being a Christian. New York: Doubleday, 1976, p. 507.
Throughout the gospels Jesus shows his heart for the downtrodden and outcasts of society. During Biblical times, tax collectors had reputations of being selfish, greedy and dishonest but Jesus chooses Matthew, a tax collector to be one of his closest friends and followers. Today's story moves quickly. One moment Jesus is calling to Matthew to "follow me" and the next they are together at a festive feast with a group of Matthew's friends and colleagues. Maybe this was a farewell dinner for Matthew, whose life was about to change in ways he couldn't imagine as he followed Jesus on the road and his friends were there to wish him well. But that isn't how the Pharisees saw the event. I imagine the Pharisees hovering outside the door to Matthew's house, hearing the sound of many voices and laughter and tsk-tsking about Jesus and how bad it looked for him to seek out and spend time with such low characters.
I hope I would not have been standing outside with the Pharisees, gossiping and looking for shortcomings where there were none. Instead, I hope I would be one of those sitting around the table with Matthew and the others at that dinner. I hope I would recognize myself among the sinners gathered there, as someone who tries to be open to hearing God's nudging and following His will but who many times misses the mark quite a bit. While the Pharisees saw a Rabbi who was lowering himself by associating with sinners, I am sure those who ate with Jesus came away blessed by his attitude of mercy and grace. We know the experience changed Matthew's life forever.
When I humble myself and recognize that my sins are no better or worse than the taxpayers and sinners in today's scripture I open myself to Jesus' healing power and find it easier to be a better follower and a little better person that day.
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