Read: Matthew 9:9-13 (See also John 8:3-11, Luke 7:36-50, Mt. 23)
He was a rich man and not admired for it. Filthy lucre, got by the losses of others and gained by deception and swindling. But still, rich, it seemed. Matthew, the tax collector. Called Levi, and other names through sneering pharisaical lips and the city’s poorest. There was a place for anyone in this society, but not this one, whose riches gave the appearance of wealth but whose soul’s poverty was woven through his purple linen robes.
Shrouded in his identity, grasping for a place of respect, and finished before he could start, this is where Jesus found him, sitting on his broken throne, collecting whatever he could get from the masses. The tax booth. Matthew’s job was to collect money but not keep it, he was a sieve and no more. Who could blame him for skimming a bit off the top before it all fell through to the politicians and governments? You have to take what you can get in this world.
This is where Jesus found him, and brought him to eat with the sinners. Physicians don’t come for the well, he told the Pharisees a good bit later, when they balked at his company keeping, “but those who are sick...I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” The Pharisees probably turned away and conspired their next plan of attack, but Matthew the tax collector? Levi the rich? His eyes cast down, to the right and the left, seeing his place among the sinners—the clear outcasts, the broken, the poor, the loose women, and angry men. He was one of these? He was sick too?
We all have these moments when the realization of our sin-sickness dawns on us in shocking ways. We realize the finery we wear simply covers a diseased self and no matter how much of this world we’ve gained, our soul is still lost. We look to our right and left, and find ourselves surrounded by fellow sinners and realize: we’re who they’re looking at too, just as broken, just as sick, and just as much in need of Jesus. Most of us in those moments, try to find something else to cover us, fig leaves like the first man and woman after their original sin, a boat in the other direction like Jonah, a cave like Elijah—anything to get away from the stigma of sin-sickness. Anything to spare us from the hospital of the broken. But Jesus, sweet Jesus, pulls back the veil and reveals just how sick we are and in the same moment says, “Yes. This is why I have come.”
Our sin isn’t a side-show entertainment, he doesn’t say this for the benefit of the Pharisees alone, he says it for the sinners too, so that we might know just how bad off things are and just how good he is.
Where are you, like the Pharisees, scrambling to keep up appearances? Where are you, like Matthew the tax collector, trying to gain money or looks or sufficiency to cover up how broken and in need of Christ you are? Where are you gathered with the obvious sinners, surprised to find yourself just as in need of Christ as they are?
Listen to me: Jesus didn’t come for the well. He didn’t come for the put-together and perfect. He didn’t come for the ones who won’t lay still in the hospital and let themselves be administered the only thing that will heal them: Himself.” He came for you, sinner, and me, sinner. He came for the Pharisees who don’t know they’re Pharisees and for the prostitutes who know it. He came for the filthy rich by ill-gotten gains and for the poorest poor who can’t ever get a leg up. He came for the ones who know they’re sick. He’s the only one who can make us well.
- Are you a Pharisee, one who thinks you’re doing pretty okay on your own? Or Matthew, one coming to the realization of your brokenness? Or one of the others, who knows full well the depth of your brokenness and need of Christ?
- Are you uncomfortable with being weak, sick, or letting others see your brokenness? Why or why not?
- Who does Jesus show himself to be in this passage? What is your response to him?