Jesus was out once again walking along the shore of the sea. What a beautiful view with the yellow, rolling hills that molded themselves around the blue, shimmering waters of Galilee. It was probably some time in the fall, but the nation of Israel is in a land where the weather is mild, even in the middle of winter. As He went along, the crowds continued to follow Him. And He continued to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven.
The time came for Jesus to leave the crowd, and as He walked away, He came across a man named Matthew (or Levi) who was a tax collector. He was sitting at his tax booth, busy at work.
There was a lot of shipping on the Sea of Galilee. There was also a major international road that threaded its way right through Capernaum. It lead all the way north to Damascus, out to the Mediterranean Sea, and down south to Egypt. There were a lot of ways for a tax collector to make a lot of money in that town.
In the eyes of most people in Israel, one of the worst things a Jewish person could be was a tax collector. That’s because they were not collecting taxes for the nation of Israel. They were taking taxes from their fellow Jewish countrymen and giving them to Rome. The worst part was, they usually overcharged and kept the extra for themselves. A Jewish tax collector was seen as a terrible traitor, and they were much hated by their own people. They had sided with the oppressor! The corruption of the tax collectors was so common throughout Israel that they were excommunicated from the Jewish faith.
And yet, that is not how Jesus treated Matthew as He passed by his booth. Instead, He looked over at him and said, “‘Follow me!’” He was calling Matthew to be His disciple!
What? Wow! What was Jesus thinking? Of all the people in the crowds who were following him, why in the world had He chosen a tax collector? It was hardly the best way to form a team that would build His popularity or respect. We don’t know the exact thoughts going on in Jesus’ head, but we do know that Jesus didn’t do anything apart from the will of His Father. This Matthew was chosen by God to be a disciple of the Messiah.
This was probably not the first time Jesus and Matthew had met, but it was a great big turning point in Matthew’s life. He would never be the same again. When he heard the words of Jesus, he did not hesitate. He immediately stood up and followed the Lord, leaving everything else behind. He walked away from a comfortable job that made him very wealthy, trusting completely in Jesus. Gone was the security of riches, but he had gained a new life of honor, adventure, and eternal hope.
Matthew was so thrilled to follow the Lord that he threw a banquet at his house. He wasn’t going to keep his faith a secret! A huge crowd of his fellow tax collectors were invited along with a bunch of other sinners. Now, in those days, “sinner” was a really insulting word. It described anyone who was in rebellion against God. The way they lived their lives helped spread the power of darkness in the world. In that day, it made them a social outcast. It was quite a gathering, and there, in the midst of them all was the Lord Jesus and His disciples, reclining at Matthew’s table, sharing a meal. In the Jewish culture, eating with someone was an important sign of friendship. Jesus was making it very clear that He identified with and accepted the men and women around Him.
What was the Lord doing? Why would he befriend people that were in hateful rebellion against His Father? Well…because they weren’t. They believed in Jesus, and they had become His followers.
Do you think Jesus might have lied and told them that their sins were okay? Do you think they could be His followers if they hadn’t repented? Do you think they would have come to Matthew’s house if they had no plans to respond to the famous message of his guest? No. This banquet was full of those whose hearts had been changed, and it was a great and wonderful thing to celebrate!
The Pharisees and teachers of the law heard about the feast and grumbled. They were offended that this new preacher would spend so much time with such horrible people. What if people thought Jesus was saying their sin was okay? They went to the Lord’s disciples and complained. “‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collector and “sinners”?’”
Jesus overheard them and answered, “‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means; ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Jesus was quoting Hosea 6:6, using the Old Testament to prove His point to these religious leaders. They couldn’t deny the words of their own prophet!
The religious leaders were very proud, and they had set themselves on a level that was higher than everyone else. They thought they had the right to judge. But in this story, they were the ones that were rebelling against God because they were rejecting His Son! They refused to follow Him and show the same kind of mercy that He was giving to the lost children of Israel. They refused to hear the voice of their own prophets. Would they ever learn?