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.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “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.”Matthew 9:9-13
Matthew would have been in a booth collecting taxes for the Roman road that people traveled on or for the fish that were caught in the Sea of Galilee. Either way, these taxes would have been a difficult burden to bear for the people of the area.
Tax collectors were Jewish men employed by the Roman government. They were hated and seen as traitors to their own people. They were known to charge more than was required as a means to line their own pockets. Since they had the power of the Roman government behind them, they could extort their own people without consequence. There is a lot of talk of “white privilege” and “male privilege” in our own culture. Tax collectors would have been the epitome of privilege within the Jewish community.
What the crowds expected Jesus to do as He passed by Matthew’s tax collector booth is unload one of His famous rebukes, like the ones we see Him speak to the Pharisees. Instead, Jesus does something wholly unexpected. Jesus calls Matthew to be one of His own disciples. Not only that, but then Jesus goes and has dinner at Matthew’s house bringing along His disciples and other “sinners.”
Jesus isn’t afraid to hang out with sinners, be welcomed into their home, and fellowship with them over meals. And while hanging out with sinners, He isn’t afraid to tell them that they are sick and in need of healing. In this way Jesus is a total offense both to liberals and conservatives in our own culture!
Can you imagine what progressives would have said if they witnessed Jesus choose someone who is full of greed and privilege–someone who regularly socially and economically exploited the marginalized–and call that guy to be one of His exclusive and chosen disciples? I can just hear progressive Christians saying, “Jesus clearly doesn’t understand what the gospel is all about. Someone should give Him a lesson in diversity, inclusion and privilege.”
Can you imagine what conservatives would have said if they witnessed Jesus partying at a house full of sinners–people who were morally compromised, whose lives were riddled with licentiousness and perversion? I can just hear conservative Christians saying, “Jesus clearly has gone over to the dark side of compromising the gospel. Associating with those people does not promote the gospel of truth.”
Can you imagine what progressives would have said when Jesus responds to the question of why He eats with tax collectors and sinners and His response is essentially that they are sick and need of healing? Can you imagine how offended they would be? “How dare you call them sick. Who are you to judge them? How dare you say they need healing!”
Can you not see how far we have fallen from the standard that is Jesus?
Can you not see how easily offended we all are?
Can you not see how the progressives and conservatives both do not understand nor represent who Jesus really was?
Jesus may You help us to become much more offensive than we currently are…in all the best ways. May the way we lean into mercy instead of sacrifice offend and provoke in all the ways that You did, Jesus. I pray that my life would be a total offense to religious folks who are both progressive and conservative.