Jesus had a habit of eating with the “wrong people” throughout his life and ministry (Lk. 15:1-2; Lk: 19.1-10). The setting and situation of this encounter with Matthew the tax collector is no different. Tax collectors were social pariahs, classified socially with thieves, murderers, and adulterers. Matthew invites other tax collectors, since they are his circle of influence and probably only friends, to this meal with Jesus and his disciples.
When the watching and judgmental Pharisees question him on his choice of meal companions, Jesus utters one of my favorite lines in all of scripture: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” You might recall the parable of the great feast from Matthew 22:1-10 and Luke 14:15-24. Jesus invites the outcasts, the marginalized, the sinners to this great meal. Jesus doesn’t invite people who don’t need him. He invites people who are most glaringly aware of their need to be saved from their own depravity. He invites people who are desperately and painfully conscious of their need for a Savior.
The Pharisees again question Jesus’ eating habits; this time his practice rather than his company. The question is concerning John (the Baptist)’s disciples who practice regular observed fasting, while Jesus’ disciples don’t. As we know, John had died by this point, thus making sense of his disciples’ decision to fast. Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to fast, but rather celebrate, because (in an act of foreshadowing) he knows a day is coming when he will be physically gone from their presence and there will then be time for fasting. Amen! I wouldn’t want to be guilty of missing a chance to rejoice with the Savior. And Jesus liked to eat when he celebrated, so let’s eat!
Jesus is well aware that his actions and teachings here are new and hard to (pardon the pun) swallow. Because of that awareness he used the image of the new patch on old fabric and the new wine poured in an old wineskin to help alleviate any questions and show that holding onto “old” can prevent openness to “new.” For example, in the case of the wine, fresh wine is still in the fermentation process, which produces gas. New wineskins, still having elasticity, can accommodate this gas, while an old wineskin, already stretched to capacity, would burst.
What is the message about God?
God can use anyone. God can meet us where we are. All he asks is that we leave behind our former selves and follow. Is that tough? Absolutely it is. We all have things that we hold dear and cherish and value. Some of us are like the apostles called out of being fishers, who could easily return to our boats. Matthew could not. He left a life he could not return to and followed Jesus with reckless abandon. He lost so much, but he gained so much more. When our Father calls, will we listen? He can lead us to life in Him greater than anything we could ever hope or imagine. Matthew wasn’t wrong to follow. You and I won’t be either.
What is the message about myself?
I so often doubt Jesus’ ability to use someone like me. A sinner. A doubter. A slanderer. A cheater. I’m so stuck in my ways that I can’t see Jesus calling me to something bigger and greater; I just keep trying to re-patch things or put new wine in and old wineskin. Perhaps you’re wondering (like Matthew probably did and like I often do) if it’s too late for you to leave your old life and shame behind and begin again? The answer we learn here is that it’s never too late. Jesus wants people that no one else wants. Jesus took Matthew, a tax collector, an outcast, but yet a willing vessel, and brought him along for a life- and world-changing journey.
What is the message about our world?
We live in world full of hurting people in need, many of them too proud or too ignorant to realize it. Matthew saw people all around him in need of the Savior who came to seek and save the lost, and did something about it. Yes, he was concerned about his own calling, but unlike the self-absorbed Pharisees, Matthew caught the vision and brought other hurting people along for the journey. Will you be the one to invite people in to the joy you know? Can I, can you, look at our circles of influence and care enough for other people in need of a Savior to share the good news?
This blog was written by Isaac Schade, Worship Minister at Christ’s Church.