9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples.
11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
I don't know if you realize it or not but Matthew was an outcast. It was risky and politically incorrect for Jesus to call someone like Matthew to be one of His disciples. Tax collectors in those days were viewed as traitors and crooks.
First, they were Jews working for the hated oppressors – the Romans – collecting taxes. Second, generally they were very rich because they charged far more in taxes than the law required. Third, being a tax collector and customs official Matthew had daily contact with "unclean" pagans. Furthermore, we are told that Matthew actually allowed tax collectors and sinners into his home. Not only did Matthew break the laws on uncleanness but he often broke the Sabbath rules as well.
Was Matthew a sinner? Was he unclean? Was he a crook? Did he sell out to the hated Romans? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Jesus knew all this. Jesus was aware of all this. Jesus never said Matthew was none of these.
Those who were so eager to condemn him were sinners themselves. We are told that when the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with Matthew, other tax collectors, and sinners, they questioned His disciples about this. This wasn't a simple question asked out of curiousity. Rather, it was said with accusation and anger and hostility. "WHY DOES YOUR TEACHER EAT WITH TAX COLLECTORS AND 'SINNERS'?" Why does Jesus lower Himself and contaminate Himself?
"Follow me." These are the words Jesus says to Matthew, to the sinners and tax collectors, to the scribes and Pharisees."Follow me." These are the words Jesus says to us. And, we all are sinners – you, me, everyone you know! Jesus knows our sins – just like He knew Matthew's. He knows our lusts. He knows our coveting. He knows our disobedience. He knows all of this yet He says, "Follow me."
But, then, why did Jesus come? Why the incarnation? Why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our flesh? He did this to call sick sinners – like Matthew, and the scribes and Pharisees, and you and me – to follow Him.
Many times we put up walls – in our homes, in our churches, in our circle of friends. We put up walls that keep people like Matthew out. We pick and choose. We look down on some people, like the scribes and Pharisees looked down on Matthew and tax collectors and sinners. We look down on some people and conclude they are a lost cause, that they are not worth our effort and our time. We separate ourselves from the very people our Lord Jesus came to save. If Jesus acted the same way that we sometimes do He would never have called Matthew. So, we need to hear the words of Jesus: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick ... I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Now, as Jesus points out, it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. It isn't the healthy who make a visit to the emergency room, but the sick.
Well, Jesus is the doctor. He is the One Who gives healing. He is the One Who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He is the One Who heals the sick, raises the dead, and cleanses those who have leprosy. He is the One Who cures the sickness in our souls. Jesus has come to call sinners. He is the One Who would heal all that is wrong in our lives and make us God's child again. He is the One Who meets us in our misery and calls us to come to Him and be healed and made whole.
"Follow me," said Jesus to a sick sinner named Matthew. Notice how Matthew responded? "Matthew got up and followed him." Following Jesus is not an easy thing. Quite often it requires sacrifice. Many times those who follow Jesus have to give up something or maybe even everything.
This was not easy for Matthew to do. This meant sacrifice. This meant commitment. This meant a new and different direction to his life. Do you think Matthew was still able to be a tax collector after he answered Jesus' call? Do you think he could still hang out with all his old friends and do the same things with them he did before? Do you think life went on for Matthew pretty much the same as it was before? I think Matthew knew life was forever different from now on.
Do you know what this tells me? This tells me no one is beyond the reach of God's grace. Matthew wasn't. Nor were the tax collectors and sinners he invited into his home. Nor were the scribes and Pharisees who were so quick to condemn him and write him off. Nor are you and me and any of our loved ones.
"THANK YOU Jesus for coming for us sick sinners. For calling us to follow You. You came to heal us and restore us and make us whole. I pray each of us would have the boldness to just get up and follow you just like Matthew did. And that we would be willing to give up everything for You!"