As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)
Matthew was a Jew who was appointed by the Romans to be the area’s tax collector. He collected taxes from the citizens as well as from merchants passing through town. Tax collectors were expected to take a commission on the taxes they collected, but most of them overcharged and kept the profits. Thus, tax collectors were hated by the Jews because of their reputation for cheating and because of their support of Rome.
When Jesus called Matthew to be one of his disciples, Matthew got up and followed, leaving his lucrative career. When he visited Matthew, Jesus hurt his own reputation. Matthew was cheating the people, but Jesus found and changed him.
The Pharisees constantly tried to trap Jesus, and they thought his association with tax collectors like Matthew and other “disreputable sinners” (9:10) was the perfect opportunity. They were more concerned with their own appearance of holiness than with helping people, with criticism than encouragement, with outward respectability than practical help. But God is concerned for all people, including the sinful and hurting ones.
When God calls you to follow or obey him, do you do it with as much abandon as Matthew? Sometimes the decision to follow Christ requires difficult or painful choices. Like Matthew, we must decide to leave behind those things that would keep us from following Christ. Following Jesus’ example, we can share the gospel with the poor, immoral, lonely, and outcast, not just the rich, moral, popular, and powerful. We should not be afraid to reach out to people who are living in sin—God’s message can change anyone. What will you do to reach others for Christ?