II. We reveal the appearance of the Kingdom of Heaven when we extend mercy to the (physically and socially) unclean
Now in Matthew 9:9, Jesus calls the tax-collector Matthew to follow him. Matthew represents half of the problem group of “tax collectors and sinners.” Immediately (v. 11) we hear many of Matthew’s tax collector buddies and sinners came and were reclining [at a supper meal] with Jesus and his disciples. This does not sit well with temple leadership.
You have to remember in the social-location at that time, this all would have been very public, with neighbors and “the crowd” and the curious all peering in to the supper venue. Most likely a curious Pharisee was able to get the attention of a few disciples, pulling them out to ask: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (v 11). Jesus overhears the question and takes the opportunity to teach everyone: “Those 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” (vv. 12-13).
This begins a thread of accusations from the temple-leadership against Jesus—they don’t like the nature of Jesus’ fishing.The accusation from the Pharisees, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners” is juxtaposed to Jesus explaining his mission, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” So, we have those who do not need a physician, meaning the accusing Pharisees and those who are sick, meaning the “tax collectors and sinners.” This is the pattern here in Matthew.
Let’s be fair to Matthew. We like to read what Jesus said as “everyone is like a tax collector and we’re all sinners.” No. No. No. Leveling and equalizing this robs us of the narrative impact: I think we can agree Jesus calls Matthew—a real life tax collector—and Matthew invites his friends and entourage to have a meal with Jesus. So here we have the context and the social group meant by “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax-collectors are not only the bottom of everyone’s hate list, they are traitors of the worse kind (Israelites in the employment of Caesar).
Sinners are not simply “everyone” (you know because everyone sins—although true, this is not the reference). It is not as if Jesus said, “but those who realize they are sick.” Matthew has been pretty clear that the crowd he has been ministering to and who surrounds Him is made up of all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains . . .(Matthew 4:23-24): these are most assuredly in the narrative the “sinners”: The sick, the mentally unstable, the deceased, the lame. Elsewhere in the gospels, we know that sinners are outsiders (e.g., Galileans), the uneducated, those in sympathy with the Empire, those ignorant of the Law, those outside the insiders of the temple leadership and their friends and families. This is why the Pharisees are offended by Jesus. This is why they do not like the nature of his fishing.
Jesus says in the same breath (Matthew 9:13): “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”Again, we tend to read this as if Jesus said, “I desire you be saved by grace and not by any works because sacrifices can’t save you.” All good (of course), but misses Jesus’ point.
➥ Why this tension or opposing attributes, sacrifice and mercy?
➥ Sacrifice is a purity impulse, something given up or put to death so we are more pure, more sanctified, more clean.
➥ Sacrifice is a boundary marker and a boundary to restore holiness, that which marks what is clean and unclean.
➥ Mercy blurs the distinction, bringing the clean and unclean in contact with each other.
➥ Jesus forgives and heals a paralytic
➥Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinner
➥Jesus’ proximity to the crowd, so a woman with a discharge of blood touches Jesus
➥Jesus takes the hand of a dead girl
➥Jesus touched the eyes of two blind men
➥Jesus cast demons from a deaf-mute
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV
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