First century housing and synagogue in Capernaum. Home to Jesus and Matthew..
How revealing this passage is to the true heart of God. Mercy and Grace are attributes of love. Sacrifice is a transaction to satisfy a debt, a payment made. Commerce.
Our Father ( the heavenly one ) would prefer the love of a broken sinful child to the satisfied check list of the dutiful loveless. He wants my heart, not my completed list of kept rules.
The story of Matthew’s invitation from Jesus is moving to me. I relate to Matthew in many ways even though I lack the notorious tax collector elements. I do though remember well the way I was treated by the religious authority figures in my early life as a recently “saved” hippy in the early 70’s. In the days before I learned to conform to the look and feel of organized religion I was very aware of the ” I didn’t quite fit in ” vibe coming my way. I remember telling my friends that I was glad to be a Christian in spite of the church. I did however learn to adapt and “fit in”. The nearly shoulder length hair was cut, I only smoked cigarettes in private and I shed a hand full of unacceptable vices.
I think I had something going for me that helped me “stick it out”. My very early days in Christ following were spent away from the organized church where I had accepted Christ. I pretty much dove into the little paperback New Testament bible on my own. Me and Jesus, getting to know each other. I worked the night shift at a horrible factory in Kalamazoo Michigan and was quickly branded a Jesus freak. If you don’t go out partying there is a lot more time for study. I had a true heart changing experience with Jesus on a personal level. It began to shift the way I thought and lived. For months I had almost no contact with organized church.
As things do, that changed when we moved back to Niles and I got involved with a Jesus movement hippy church where I had first accepted Christ. After a brief period of euphoria, things fell apart at the hippy church. Eventually we attended a traditional local church where the adaptation “took on steam”. I did in the church what I had learned to do in other areas of my life. I worked. I volunteered. I signed up. I climbed. I achieved in the best way I could. It was the best path to self importance I had ever found. I found out that the church loves work-a-holics. Somehow in the process I had drifted away from the Jesus I had met in those early days of isolated learning. I was very involved in church related stuff. The activities were a great substitute ( or so it appeared) for authentic relationship with Jesus. I had successfully traded in my friendship with Jesus for transactional religion. The effects on my soul were devastating. Several traditional church’s later, I was invited into a discipleship friendship without even knowing it by a guy named Rob Wegner. He happened to be a pastor at the church I was attending. He was the first pastor in a long line of pastors who invited me into his life and began this discipleship journey without ever calling it that. We spent time together. He shared special books with me. It looked a lot like friendship with Jesus as the centerpiece.
As I think back on those days there is a similarity to what Rob did with me and what Jesus did with Matthew in vs 9:9. Rob said : Wanna come with me ? Jesus said : Follow Me. One translation has Jesus saying ” come along with me”. The point of this is not so much about celebrating Rob’s friendship and discipling but to point out that discipleship is not a program. Its foundation is in relationship which is always going to look a lot like friendship.
So, this passage has a funny twist for me.. It’s Matthew writing about how he met Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Maybe I’m just easily entertained but that’s a bit comedic to me. It also makes me lean in a little. There is a pretty good chance he is telling the story well. He says.. later at Matthews place.. Jesus was there with his people and some of Matthew’s buddies also show up. These are not ” church folk “.
Before we talk about the religious guys hanging around to watch over Jesus’s actions lets address what doesn’t make friends. Scolding. Lets say Jesus knows that Matthew is a tax collector. I think that ones pretty clear, it says that he found him in a tax collectors booth. It’s pretty widely known that the Jews ( and most everyone else) all hate tax collectors, so the invitation to hang out with Jesus had to take Matthew a little by surprise. He a pretty famous guy that people call Rabbi ( teacher). Rabbi and the Jews in general are not allowed to even be near tax collectors and sinners of any kind.
They are there .. hanging out.. talking .. eating some lamb.. maybe sipping a little Mogan David.. This does not sound adversarial to me. It does not sound like a church service. It sounds like people sharing a meal together and sharing life. Getting to know each other. I cant see Jesus scolding Matthew and his buddies for their many sins, pointing them out, one by one. I think that would have ended the party pretty quickly. Instead we see them ” getting cozy” according to what the Pharisees say. This ” getting cozy” with sinners sets the religious guys teeth on edge. This would be viral all over Facebook and the news if it happened today. ” Jesus, has been hanging with sinners ! ” Somebody would have gotten video. So Jesus.. who has been calm so far with his new friends suddenly flares up in the direction of the “religious know it all’s “: Who needs a doctor ? The healthy or the sick ? Go figure out what this means: I am after Mercy, not religion ! I am here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders !
People do not fall in love with people who scold them until long after they know that they are loved by them. We love people who see past our flaws and love us anyway. That kind of love makes us better people. Jesus is telling everyone in the room that he wants Love ( which always requires mercy ) and not dutiful, transactional religion!
I am struck again by the beautiful heart of Jesus, who is the face of God for us to see.
This is who He is ! Jesus wants to help us escape the gravitational pull of dutiful religion and embrace love, His natural language.
Mercy and Grace.. even for me.. a friend of Matthew’s on a life altering evening in Capernaum.