Jesus Invites a Tax Collector to Join Him
August 15 - Nº 227 Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32
After healing the paralyzed man who had been let down through a hole in the roof (see #226 - Healing a Leper and a Paralyzed Man), Jesus left the crowded house to go for a walk beside the Sea of Galilee. But it wasn’t long before the people caught up with him. As they walked along, Jesus continued teaching them. When he looked up, he saw a man named Levi (who was also called Matthew) sitting in the tax collector’s booth. Since Capernaum was on an important trade route, the Roman government had set up a toll booth to collect money. A traveler passing through town on the via Maris (see #224 - Fishing for People) had to stop and pay before he could continue his journey. The Romans also taxed the fishermen who made a living by netting fish in the Sea of Galilee. Then they taxed the merchants who transported the dried fish to other provinces. There seemed to be taxes for everything. The people who collected the taxes were very unpopular. They were Jewish men who worked for the Roman government, so they were considered traitors. In addition, the job was given to the person who promised to raise the most money for Rome. After collecting the contracted amount, the tax collector was permitted to keep any extra cash for himself. So most of them became extremely wealthy by defrauding their fellow citizens. If someone refused to pay, the tax collector had the right to throw him in prison—and there was a whole garrison of Roman soldiers in Capernaum ready to enforce the penalty! The Pharisees and teachers of the law despised tax collectors and excommunicated them from the Jewish faith the minute they accepted the position. They were considered even more unclean than lepers! So when Jesus called out to Matthew, “Follow me!”, the people who had witnessed the miracles were no doubt shocked. And when Matthew left his booth to walk along with them, they probably scattered. It was a great risk for Matthew to leave his profitable position to follow Jesus. He was a significantly wealthy man! By leaving, he would lose all his income and never be able to return to his job. Plus, if a past client decided to get even with him for extortion, he would no longer have the protection of the Roman soldiers. But Matthew chose to take the risk. Then he decided to host a reception for Jesus in his home. He invited many other tax collectors and “sinners” to join them. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were appalled! They approached Jesus’ disciples and asked, “Why is your teacher eating with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus overheard them, so he answered, “Doctors do not cure people who think they are healthy. They cure people who are sick. I am not here to minister to people who think they are righteous. I have come to call people who know they are sinners to repent.”
Jesus was often accused of being a “friend of sinners.” This doesn’t mean that he hung around and drank with them at keg parties! It means that they were drawn to his honesty and integrity. He accepted them the way they were, then offered them a better solution than the life they were living. He loved them enough to explain their need for repentance and cleansing. Are you a true “friend of sinners” like Jesus was?