"Mattatiyah Gift of God: Follow Me!"

Ordinary 10A

Matthew 9: 9 13

Introduction

Our reading is about the call of Matthew to follow the Lord Jesus. "Matthew" is the shortened form of Mattatiyah, "gift of Yahweh". The incident occurred soon after our Lord had healed a paralytic and told him "Your sins are forgiven". This, of course, caused the reputable teachers of the Law to consider his actions and words blasphemous. Our Lord handled the situation patiently and with his unique blend of humility and dignity. When he had completed his task there he moved on.

Ronald Cox has a helpful comment to help set the scene:

Our Lord walked along the shore of the lake, accompanied by his many disciples. Near Tabgha may still be seen the stones of an ancient wharf; this is probably the place where Matthew was employed by Herod Antipas to collect duty on goods landed there. Matthew was no stranger to Jesus and his followers; most likely he received the tax on fish caught in the lake, and so would be well known to Peter and the other fisherman.

Some Notes On the Reading

Verse 9

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.

This incident has always amazed and perplexed us. However, we are best to receive it in the sprit in which it is written: it is a striking model, which causes us to sit back and take note! Matthew was a despised tax-gather for the even more despised administration of Herod the Tetrach. He was a Jew, possibly even a cousin of Jesus: but he was a collaborator. He lived well of the backs of his own people while they suffered, unable to do anything about it.

Our Lord, by this action, demonstrates that he will call whomsoever he chooses to be his disciples. Likewise he shows that people are his followers not because of their merits, or lack of them; but because he has chosen them!

Our Lord's demand to follow him is, in the circumstances, amazing. Perhaps even more amazing is Matthew's immediate response to drop everything, and follow the Lord.

Verse 10

Scene two of this incident opens with our Lord and his disciples having dinner in the company of several other tax gatherers and various ritually unclean individuals. In this Gospel account, it is not clear in whose house the meal is held. The writer could have intended to show Jesus as host.

Verse 11

When the Pharisees saw this they asked his disciples:

"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

The religious authorities are very meticulous indeed. Instead of engaging in dialogue with Jesus, and thus risking contamination, they put their question to the disciples, but within the hearing of our Lord. The disciples would have picked up the tone of the Pharisees who spoke of "your teacher" (not ours!). Their reference to "sinners" is primarily to non-observant Jews.

Our Lord admired religious observance. He modelled it, and demanded it later from his own disciples, but required that it should always reflect honour to God and not to one's own self.

Verses 12 and 13

On hearing this, our Lord realised his disciples could not be expected to deal with the protests of such learned critics. He therefore butted in with an incredibly powerful retort, with three clear and stunning components:

(a) It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

(b) But go and learn what this means:

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

(c) For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

One might say, that Jesus "pulled no punches" in that his antagonists (some of the Pharisees) witnessed the full power of this most fluent young rabbi who chose to confront them with their attitude.

Firstly: Jesus tells his critics that the people they despise are spiritually sick, and that he is just as concerned with restoring spiritual well being as he is with physical well being.

Secondly: Jesus quotes Hosea 6: 6 reminding his listeners that God desires his people to recognise him as the Merciful One above all else. The sentence does not mean God does not desire sacrifice, but that he does not approve his people using his commandments (or religious observance) as an excuse for withholding mercy. "Go and learn (i.e. ponder, debate, challenge) what this means," says Jesus. In other words, these Pharisees thought they knew the Scriptures by appearing to refer to them so much, but actually they had little real knowledge of them. (A feature just as common in Christianity as it was in Judaism.)

Thirdly: Our Lord announces at the beginning of Matthew's ministry, that he has come to call those who are humble enough to admit they have failed to keep God's laws. Jesus has just demonstrated in the call of Matthew that it is often these who are most open to hearing his call, and most willing to obey with alacrity.

This is the bedrock our Lord wishes to start building on, and the opponents of Jesus have shown they have fallen far short of the required standard.

The words of our Lord do not, of course, mean that he does not require righteousness. On the contrary it will be those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" who will be filled with it! They will be truly righteous. Those who do not seek it with all their attention will surely be those who think they possess enough.

The paradox here is that Jesus has come to call the truly righteous, and they always see themselves as spiritually weak and, indeed, sinners.

Conclusion

It would be very wrong to assume that Jesus was labelling all the Pharisees present as arrogant or self-righteous. He admired their religious stand against paganism and foreign custom. He was, however, warning them of the danger that some of them were falling into. Hard as it is, the truly spiritual person must remember at all times that he or she depends on the mercy and loving kindness of God at least as mush as anyone else. There is no room for spiritual elitism and this is something about which Jesus showed constant concern as he prepared his disciples to carry on his work.

Christians, then, must be ever vigilant and resist firmly, any temptation to see themselves as superior to those who have no religious heritage. The truly righteous will always be looking for ways to make their heritage available to others.

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