(If this Sunday is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, read this devotion in the morning, and the devotion entitled, “The Sunday Before the Season of Lent” in the evening, under this same tab.)
Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32
It’s the Sick who Need a Physician
When going through the gospels, there’s just no end to the beauty and grace that we see there. Today’s passage is no exception. Matthew was a tax collector (he is also known as Levi in the other gospels). Tax collectors were Jews hired by the Romans to collect taxes from the people. So they were seen as turncoats and traitors to their neighbors. Moreover, after they collected what the Romans demanded, they were allowed to fleece the people as much as they liked. Naturally, this led to all kinds of abuse and extortion. So they were hated by their countrymen, and one can see why.
We know nothing of Matthew’s history prior to Jesus’ call to him. We must assume that he had heard or met Jesus before and had experienced a change within. The important thing is that Jesus knew him. All we are told is that as Jesus passed by the tax booth, he said to Matthew who was standing there, “Follow me,” and Matthew did. But it’s the next scene that is so important. According to Luke, Matthew invited Jesus and the rest of the disciples over for a feast. Gathered there also were “tax collectors and sinners,” presumably Matthew’s associates. The Pharisees who saw this took offense, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The Jews of that time had strict moralistic and ritualistic codes. One was not to eat with such people. But Jesus answered, “They who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In this response, Jesus shows that the gospel is a gospel of mercy, which in turn requires his followers to be merciful as well. This had been forgotten by the teachers of the day, and Jesus’ quoting of Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” was a reminder that love comes before religious performances.
Now one important thing – it is common in our day for people to run with this and think that Christians should simply accept sinful behavior, make no distinctions, and live like the rest. Paul is clear that God demands that Christians separate themselves from those who would willingly do evil (2 Corinthians 6:17), and that God wills our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “Go, and from now on sin no more (John 8:11). Yes, Christians should witness to “sinners,” or those who do not know the Lord, and that may mean going to dinner with them. But we are not called to hobnob with them, join them in their misdeeds, or lead them to think we approve of their behavior. That’s not what Jesus did!