Calling the Despised

Tax collectors were reviled by the Jewish people. They were often guilty of extortion (Luke 3:12, 13) and classed with sinners and harlots (Matthew 9:10, 11; 21:31, 32).

On the flip side, they were often conscientious (Luke 19:2, 8); often hospitable (Luke 5:29); when John preached, they believed him (Matthew 21:32); they listened to Jesus (Luke 15:1); they were conscious of their sins (Luke 18:13, 14) and many sat with Jesus (Mark 2:15). Jesus was a friend of tax collectors (Luke 7:34).

Matthew or Levi as he was known was sitting in the tax office when Jesus saw him and said to him, “Follow Me.” Matthew left all, got up and followed Him. Matthew celebrated by throwing a big feast for Jesus at his home and invited all his friends so they could meet Jesus. Sinners and others were present and the religious leaders had a problem with this.

They complained to the disciples, demanding, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Jesus made it clear that He came into this world to invite tax collectors, sinners and others to turn to God. These people whom the Pharisees and teachers of the law looked down on came to Christ who opened His heart to them, showing them that God loved them too. He was sent here for people like them–the lost who needed a Shepherd to care for them.

Jesus chose Matthew, a tax collector to be one of His disciples. When Jesus looked at him he saw a “gift from Yahweh”. Matthew was so humbled and thankful that Jesus wanted him of all people to be one of His followers that he had to entertain Him with a nice feast–an act of gratitude and thanksgiving. He had witnessed firsthand the unconditional love of God.

How many Christians are like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who feel that there are certain people Jesus should not associate with? How many of us look down on homeless people or those we consider “lowlifes” believing that they could never change? We underestimate the love of God.

In his Gospel, Matthew recorded these words of Jesus to His critics, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’“(Matthew 9:13). “In other words, I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.” They considered themselves well versed in the Scriptures but yet here was Jesus telling them to go and learn what the words God really meant as prophesied through Hosea.

Many Christians feel that they know their Bibles very well or that they are an authority of who deserved God’s love and grace but God is telling us to show the unsaved and the lost love instead of offering sacrifices that in His eyes are worthless or meaningless. We tend to forget that we were once in their shoes–we were once lost but for the goodness of the Lord, we are where we are now.

Matthew wrote the first Gospel, sharing the the Good News with the Jews, showing them that Jesus Christ was indeed the long awaited Messiah. Matthew’s immediate response to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him is an indication that he had heard and was moved by Jesus’ public preaching. Today, Jesus is calling the lonely, the despised, the heartbroken, the lost, the poor and the unsaved to follow Him. Will they respond like Matthew did?


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