Epistles to the Cyberchurch - Su Min

To: All
From: Su Min
Subject: Matthew

My dear children,
Today's lesson is Matt 9:9-12, the calling of Matthew. A parallel passage is found in Mark 2:13-17, Luke 5:27-31. Read and let the Word of God minister to you.

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to Him and He began to teach them (Mark 2:13).

As Jesus went on from there, as He walked along, He saw a man named Matthew Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Matthew got up, left everything, and followed him. (Matt 9:9, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27-28).

Then Matthew Levi, son of Alphaeus held a great banquet for Jesus at his house. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Jesus (Matt 9:10, Mark 2:15, Luke 5:29).

When the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect saw Jesus eating with the 'sinners' and tax collectors, they complained and asked His disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" (Matt 9:11, Mark 2:16, Luke 5:30).

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 to repentance" (Matt 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31).

May God add His blessings to this our reading of His holy word.

Once again Jesus goes about teaching, preaching, and spreading the call for repentance. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," (Matt 4:17 has been His central theme. A large crowd follow Him, and He ministers to them. He does not remain stationary but actively seeks out those He will appoint to be his disciples. He comes to select what in earthly terms would be a most unlikely candidate.

Capernaum was sited near the highway that linked Damascus to the coastal road, and linked Mesopotamia to Egypt. The Romans appointed local agents to collect tax and tolls and levies for the goods that traders brought along. Matthew Levi, son of Alphaeus, was such a tax collector, agent for the hated Roman conquerors, collecting, as is usual the corrupt practice of the post, much for his own gain. Such a person would not normally be endeared to the common people of Galilee. On the contrary, the tax collector was despised and reviled. But Jesus, in His paradoxical wisdom, came to Matthew, and made the call, "Follow me".

Matthew's response was instant. Matthew's response was complete. Matthew's response was to get up right away, leave everything he had behind, including the valuable job he had and all the ill gotten gains, and follow Jesus.

Then Matthew held a great banquet for Jesus at his house. Many tax collectors and 'sinners' had been invited also. We can understand that this was a little while later after Matthew's initial calling by Jesus. Matthew, having met Jesus is a changed man. No longer avaricious, Matthew is a generous man. He throws a big banquet for Jesus. It was probably an evangelical meeting where Matthew could witness to his previous fellow tax collectors. Jesus would teach, and the Pharisees and teachers of the law were there. Many of the commoners were there as well, invited by Matthew to hear the teaching of Jesus. Because they were judged to be less holy, less righteous than the Pharisees, the Pharisees called them 'sinners'.

We can imagine how at the dinner banquet Jesus mingled with the crowd. He did not seek to sit with the Pharisees and teachers of the law to discuss the finer points of the interpretations of the scriptures. Instead, Jesus chose to eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'. The Pharisees and teachers of the law themselves wound not have consorted with such, and were affronted by this lack of attention and verbalised their displeasure.

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 to repentance" (Matt 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31).

The Pharisees had rejected the tax collectors and 'sinners' from their social circles. It was as if the sinners would contaminate the Pharisees. Jesus teaches us to love the sinner but not the sin.

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" was a common proverb of the day. Jesus uses it to point out to the Pharisees that indeed the tax collectors and 'sinners' were spiritually sick and in need of healing. If the Pharisees were clothed in self righteousness, in their own eyes they were spiritually healthy, and Jesus would have no avenue to minister to them. On the contrary, the common people would be convicted of their sin, and would accept the call to repentance, and have their sin-sick souls cured by the amazing grace of the Lord God Almighty, who shows his compassion and does great and mighty things.

But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy not sacrifice,'
The Pharisees made it a fine art of interpreting the law, and they made a big fuss in ensuring the commoners came up with all of all the different sacrifices required by temple rites. Jesus points out that the Pharisees would meet God's requirements more closely if they learned to show mercy to the commoners rather than extract sacrifices from the commoners.

'I desire mercy not sacrifice,' is a quotation from Hosea 6:6 that Jesus used, and it merits commitment to memory. Matthew 9:15, Hosea 6:6 'I desire mercy not sacrifice.'

The prophet Hosea was instructed by God to marry and love Gomer an adulterous woman. After bearing three sons, Gomer runs away with a lover but ends up in a slave market. Hosea finds her, redeems her for 15 shekels of silver and one and a half homers of barley. Hosea then pronounces that Israel is behaving like an adulterous wife. The lament for Israel's fleeting and temporary faithfulness is declared in Hosea 6:4-11. "I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6)

We put this lesson in the present day context. Jesus comes to you and says, "Follow me". Make no mistake, my children. He had pre-selected us.

Note the response to being called: Let us pray.

For any comments or enquiries please write to Dr. Lim Su Min

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