"Mattatiyah — Gift of God: Follow Me!"
Matthew 9: 9 — 13
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:
Some Notes On the Reading
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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