9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In a culture where religious leaders sought to keep themselves separate and “pure”, Jesus is doing something shocking here. He is not only talking to known “sinners”, he even goes so far as to share a meal with them!
In ancient culture, eating with someone was considered extremely significant. You would only eat with someone if you wanted to be identified with them, to make yourself one with them. That is why the religious leaders were shocked and asked the disciples why would Jesus want to be identified with these lowly people?
Perhaps Jesus’ disciples did not really know how to answer this question so we see Jesus stepping in to help them out with an answer. His reply is clear: You Pharisees don’t think you need Me, but these people obviously do. I am coming down to the level of the lowly sinners to identify with them so that they can identify with Me and be lifted up.
Don’t you love how Jesus doesn’t wait until we are good enough to qualify to be His people, but He comes down to our level saying “I’ll identify with you – now You identify with me. Follow Me and I’ll get you out of this mess”.
This is so amazing and wonderful on a personal level, but also an incredibly challenging example of how we should now live as followers of Jesus.
Lord help me follow Your lead to identify with those who are in need and to guard against religious pride.
Written by Shelley Witt