Matthew 9: The Undesirables

I’m taking part in a Lent devotional reading written by N.T. Wright called Lent for Everyone on the YouVersion Bible App. It is fantastic: one part commentary by Wright, one part Scripture reading. I highly encourage it for anyone interested- it’s not too late!

That being said, I was reading my Scripture portion of the day out of Matt 9 when verse 9 jumped up and smacked me in the face: the calling of Matthew the tax collector. Matthew was sitting at his booth, maybe looking like a younger version of this:

tax collector

As a tax collector, Matthew was considered a traitor of the Jews, having sold his soul to the dogs of Rome and to greed above his countrymen. He would not have been allowed anywhere near the temple, thus was also considered perpetually ceremonially unclean. It was a lonely life. Culturally speaking, Matthew could have been as young as 7. Since trade was passed down through the family, boys would often do the work of going out and collecting the taxes and bringing it back to his father for keeping. Most likely he was an adolescent. One with no Jewish friends, unaccepted by his ethnic brothers and religion. He was a Jew without the temple or synagogue, without community. Yet, with two words, he drops everything to follow a rabbi.

Jesus sees him, sees into his heart, and knows his thirst for more. Jesus looks and sees the loneliness, the longing for love, acceptance, community, and the God which has heretofore been denied him. Jesus sees the capacity for Matthew to grow into a man that reflects Jesus’ own spirit and mission. And he says, “Follow me.” Extraordinary.

As the passage continues in vv. 10-13, Jesus continues to collect a passel of the undesirables, the unclean, and the outcast. He surrounds himself with them in love and mercy, choosing to dine with them. He grabs those with whom no religious man would ever consider associating.

And we are told to be like Jesus. I am heartbroken and appalled when I hear of Christians pouring hatred and judgment on the “undesirables, the unclean, and the outcast.” If we are to be like Jesus, not only are we not to judge them like the 1st century religious leaders, but conversely, we are to surround ourselves with and befriend them with complete love, grace, and mercy. Jesus did not stand around pointing fingers at the sinful ones, but rather grabbed them and pulled them close. Who are we to do otherwise?! Judging people and demanding their repentance is for God alone. If we are to do our jobs as Christians, we must love and serve the sinful to the feet of Jesus. We pray for them and show them what Jesus looks like through our reflection of him.

Please join me in prayer today that God would open our hearts to see the hurting hearts of the sinful instead of seeing the sin; that we, like Jesus, would rather call them into relationship and friendship than point fingers and judge. Please pray with me that the heart of the church would be changed to reach those who are considered the outcast in today’s society. Beloved, we must not hoard God’s grace for ourselves. Please pray with me that we would become generous in grace and mercy. Amen.

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