Jesus Calls: Follow Me
Perhaps one of the most powerful stories of discipleship in Gospel involves the very call of Matthew himself. Jesus gives a simple command to Matthew by saying “follow me”. This calling takes place in Mt. 9:9-13 and reads,
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “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.”
Matthew was a tax collector in Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was a major trading town and he would have been responsible to collect the custom duties that were due to the bustling trade in the area.
When describing the call of Matthew, the other synoptics refer to him as Levi, and Matthew is the only one who uses Matthew. Matthew is an Aramaic name that means gift from God, while Levi was the third son of Jacob in Genesis 29.
Those of Jewish heritage who worked for Rome were seen as traitors and the lowest of the low. Unlike Andrew and Peter, there is no scriptural evidence to show that Jesus had met him previous to this event. It was a common practice of tax collectors of the era to engage in extortion.
They could seemingly make up a tax and the people would have to pay. What was not sent to the government was extra income for the tax collector. For someone of Jewish lineage to engage in such a practice would be to break the Law of Moses in regard to usury. Yet Jesus calls him, and he heeds the call and follows.
The calling of Matthew to be a disciple was an event that placed Jesus in a scandalous position. The Pharisees saw people as outcasts. People such as Matthew were to be shunned. This was an example of Jesus seeing Matthew as a neighbor as can be seen in Mt. 5:43.
Dinner With Jesus
Perhaps it was that sermon that opened up the heart of Matthew to heed the call of Christ, but that is speculation. What is known that sometime after Matthew becomes disciple, he has a dinner at his home for Jesus. Matthew invited his former associates in the tax collection trade and what the text simple refers to as “sinners”.
They flock to Jesus in huge numbers. Though Matthew was a relatively new follower, he has been radically changed by Jesus and he wants his former associates to meet him. Not only is this a great example of discipleship, but evangelism.
The Pharisees saw this as an opportunity to undermine Jesus in front of a large crowd who really needed him. Jesus responds masterfully with a scripture from Hosea 6:6. That passage of scripture states, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”.
Going Through The Motions
This passage from Hosea was written during a time when the kingdom was divided amongst North and South. Hosea was prophet to the Northern kingdom and addressed them as being sick and wounded because of their sin. In Hosea’s time the people appeared to be following the covenant. However they were only following the ritual and thus their hearts were not changed.
Like the people in Hosea’s time, the Pharisees looked the part. They did the right rituals, said the right things, but their actions told a different story. It told a story of someone going through the motions, and in the end following their own way. In a way similar to the people of Hosea’s time, the Pharisees rejected the Messiah in favor of Mosaic law. They chose the old law instead of the one who would institute the New Covenant.
We Are Called To Be Like Matthew
The tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was eating with were considered to be ritually unclean by the Pharisees. By extending the hand of mercy, Christ is fulfilling what Israel had been intended to truly be.
An instrument to a world that was sick that can pave the way for the work of the great physician. The Pharisees lost sight on the divine mission given to Israel. They were following the letter instead of the spirit of what God had given them. Jesus came to give forgiveness in the new covenant and being with those who were sick with sin was a key part in his work. Likewise, his disciples are called to follow his example.
Do people know that we are followers of Christ? Or are we simply going through the motions and our heart is unchanged? Today Jesus says to you “follow me”.