Focal Passage: Matthew
I was a senior in high
school applying for a scholarship to a liberal arts college. A letter of
reference written by my pastor caused a member of the scholarship committee to
identify me as a person who didn’t “smoke, curse, or chew; or run around with
those who do.”
I was shocked to learn that
he viewed this negatively. My parents had instilled in me the importance of
good behavior and the need to be careful about the company I kept. I went to
the college without the benefit of a scholarship!
Looking back on that
experience, I realize he was condemning the arrogant attitude, not the
attributes. Arrogance causes us to feel superior to others and to treat them as
if they are inferior.
Haughtiness is not a helpful attribute in God’s Kingdom
work. That is the lesson in today’s Bible story.
Like most good stories, this
one is driven by conflict between the protagonist (Jesus) and the antagonists
(the Pharisees). It begins with Jesus’ encounter with Matthew, a tax collector.
Tax collectors were hated and despised in Jesus’ day. The Jews hearing this
story certainly would identify Matthew as the villain because he worked for the
Roman government collecting taxes for a healthy commission.
The tax collectors were
disbarred from attending the synagogue and were considered unclean by Jewish
The shocking moment in the
story is when Jesus approaches Matthew and, instead of condemning him, says,
“Follow me.” And Matthew does.
As the story continues, we
see Jesus and Matthew dining with a group of tax collectors and others who are
identified as sinners. Who invited these people to the dinner party?
Apparently, Matthew invited them to come and meet Jesus. It reminds us of the
story of the Samaritan woman at the well and her invitation for her friends to
come and see Jesus.
In recent years, churches
have gone to great effort and expense to make their facilities handicap
accessible. We provide special parking, wheelchair ramps, handicap-approved
restrooms, elevators, and special seating for those with physical needs.
We welcome people into our
congregation with physical infirmities. But what happens when a spiritually
handicapped person comes into our presence? Do we really welcome them, or do we
separate them from the true fellowship by not including them in the church’s ministry.
Do we, like the Pharisees, leave those we consider to be spiritually inferior
on the outside looking in?
Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous,
but sinners” (Matthew 9:13b).