Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Tax collectors were hated among the Jewish people because they tended to be more than a little greedy and corrupt. Plus, they were typically Jews who were collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman oppressors, and they were making a huge profit doing it.
Jesus probably encountered such people often, and on two occasions, he made a point of ministering the Gospel specifically to those tax collectors. We find one in the story of Zaccheus (who climbed a tree to see Jesus), and the other in the calling of Matthew as one of Jesus’ closest disciples.
This calling probably would have confounded not only the holier-than-thou Pharisees but possibly some within Jesus’ inner circle. That’s why I loved the interpretation found in “The Bible” miniseries, where the producers combined a story in Luke 18, where Jesus contrasts the false piety of the Pharisee against the utter humility and remorse of the tax collector.
We don’t know if this is how Jesus actually called Matthew, but it has such a ring of truth to it, and it looks like what I would expect from the Lord, who always showed love and mercy. Even so, He also used the calling of Matthew as a teaching opportunity, not just about the Pharisees, but to them. He sends them on a scriptural hunt for the meaning of Hosea 6:6. (“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”) And He sends a message to the others listening, including his disciples, that God’s quality is always to show mercy to sinners.
What about us? How do we treat the “sinners” in the world? Do we look down on people who do things we don’t agree with? Or do we show the love and mercy of God to them? It’s pretty clear what Jesus would have done, and we’re supposed to be His hands and feet to those around us. Today, pray about how the Lord would have you reach out to people who need Him most.
Reflection copyright © 2017 Doug DeBolt.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.