In recent years, there’s been a lot of publicity about the rate of suicide in this country. Indeed, the examination of it—particularly youth suicide—and the reasons for people taking their own lives, has been of increasing concern. As a consequence, there have been moves into reducing, if not combating suicide, and in many cases the causes have been identified.
Some can’t cope with life. It is too stressful and suicide is an easy way out. Others feel that everyone is against them, and no matter how others try to help they can find no one who can give them support. Some have problems with living with a mistake that they have made in the past. It makes life intolerable because it just won’t go away. Others . . . Well there seems to be no identifiable reason at all; the cause is just a mystery. And the list goes on . . .
Yet whilst some people see suicide as a way out of whatever they are going through, it’s also true that many times that number, facing similar problems, cannot consider such an extreme solution. Because there are many who seem to have few friends; who have feelings of very little worth; who find life hard to cope with; and have a very low self-esteem.
As a consequence, how many people have you heard saying, “I’m not good enough;” “I made a silly mistake, and I can’t forgive myself;” “I’m not important;” “I have no talents or abilities;” “So and so is better than me;” “I’m just a waste of space;” and “I’ve got nothing to offer”?
Sound familiar? Well if it does, and if even you can identify with some of those sentiments yourselves, then this message is for you. Because far from being useless and of little worth, these kinds of people—even you and I—may be “Jesus’s kind of people.”
Let me explain what I mean.
B. THE CALLING OF MATTHEW
Now the background to the story is that Jesus had just spent time with some of the so-called “undesirables” of society. And what is meant by that, is people who, in the Pharisees, eyes were of dubious moral background, people who would make them ceremonially unclean, or people whose jobs, or whose place in society, was not highly rated.
Indeed, Jesus had been confronted by two men, both possessed by demons. And Jesus had responded to their needs by casting out the demons. He had then been presented with a man who was paralysed because of the sins that he had committed. Yet again he responded to his needs by telling him that his sins were forgiven, and by telling him to get up and walk.
Now, interestingly, in neither case are any objections to Jesus having dealings with these people recorded. But then in each case the men, or their friends, had approached him. However, as the gospel story continues, it is Jesus who then takes the initiative, and it is then that the Pharisees became very vocal in their opposition.
2. The Calling of Matthew (9)
And so the story opens with Jesus seeing Matthew sitting at his booth.
Now Matthew was a tax collector, and consequently considered as the lowest of the low in Jewish society. Because not only did he collect revenue on behalf of the Roman rulers, but he made sure that he padded the accounts, to line his own pockets too.
Matthew, then, was not a total nobody. And although he was probably only a subordinate in his role of collecting customs dues, he was undoubtedly rich and had much power. But he probably didn’t have much to be proud of. Socially he was an outcast. He was a traitor to his own kind, and a thief. And, as the story goes on… he was Jesus’s kind of person.
Indeed, Jesus called him to follow him. That is, not just to abandon his post, but to formally settle up his business, make a decisive break with his old lifestyle, and begin a lifestyle of discipleship following him. In other words he was called to give up his lucrative trade, to live a life of faith with Jesus. And that’s exactly what he did.
3. The Business Meal (10)
And so the next thing we’re told is that Jesus was not only invited into Matthew’s house, but on top of that, a lot of other undesirables—tax collectors and sinners—were invited to eat with them too. Matthew arranged a feast for his former business associates, with the clear intention of introducing them to Jesus.
And Jesus, far from backing away from mixing with this group, who had lived either immoral lives or had low occupations, was happily joining in the occasion. Jesus had accepted his role in spending time with the outcasts, and those considered least important, and he was not going to shy away from his role, no matter what he knew he would face from the Pharisees.
4. The Criticism of the Religious Leaders (11)
So when the Pharisees arrived on the scene—presumably after the meal, because they wouldn’t have wanted to have been there or to have seen to been there at the meal—the challenge to Jesus would not have been unexpected.
By mixing with those whose pasts were doubtful, with those who jobs were not considered nice, Jesus had made himself “unclean.” However rather than face Jesus directly, the Pharisees took the cowards way out and confronted the disciples for an explanation. They asked, “Why does you teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” They said, “Your teacher,” as though they were wiping their hands of all responsibility.
5. The Defence of Jesus (12-13)
But Jesus, knowing the question was really aimed at him, responded in two ways.
Firstly, he stated the obvious: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Indeed, Jesus not only justified his concern for the outcasts and the neglected but challenged the Pharisees to self-examination regarding their own spiritual life. He verbalised his role as needing to be with sinners, rather than the righteous. Because as the Pharisees considered themselves to be “righteous,” there was no need for him to spend time with them.
However, secondly, Jesus responded, by telling the Pharisees that they really didn’t understand the scriptures that they claimed to know so well. And in a pointed barb, he quoted a passage from Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6a), and then told them to go and learn what it meant.
From a background of concern for those who some considered less important in life, who had come to him, Jesus clearly illustrated that these kinds of people were precisely the type that he needed to be concerned with. Which is why, when the time came to use his own initiative, he picked out the outcasts of society—the people the elite wanted nothing to do with.
The story of Matthew and his tax collector friends, then, clearly illustrates the kinds of people to whom Jesus was called. And despite criticism from the Pharisees, he did not waiver from being with those who were of his primary concern.
But more than that, Jesus saw something in them that was special, that perhaps no-one else could see. For he had this uncanny knack of picking people, who appeared to be totally unskilled and unsuitable for the tasks that he was to give them. And yet, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they turned out to be some of the greatest leaders and contributors to the mission of the church.
So Matthew, hated by the general populace, was chosen not just to be any follower, but to be one of the twelve disciples. And, if we consider the other eleven disciples too, who were uneducated fishermen and the like, mostly unskilled . . . Who would ever thought that they would become the nucleus of God’s church?
Jesus could see someone’s potential, that no one else could see. He could see talents and abilities, that with the support of the Holy Spirit, that would make his followers, including the disciples, into great men and women of God. And yet to the rest of the world they may indeed have been “a waste of space”.
Now the implications of this story are many.
Firstly, for those who feel useless, of no value, who feel they are not good enough, who are not seen in the best light in the community, who have made mistakes in the past which continue to haunt them, who believe they have no talents or abilities and nothing to offer, the message is that you are probably Jesus’s kind of people. If Jesus were here today, you would be the kind of people that Jesus would be mixing with. You would be the kind of people that he would care for and spent time with.
Now that doesn’t mean we all have to be tax collectors and sinners, or even have a dim dark past. But just as in the past, Jesus chose not to mix openly with those who considered themselves righteous or worthy, so the same would be true today.
Secondly, for those who feel they have no talents and nothing to offer, then the fact that Jesus was able to identify hidden talents and hidden qualities, not only in Matthew and the disciples but in many others too, should be of great encouragement. Because no matter what other people tell you, Jesus saw something special in all of his followers. And that applies to all of us today too.
Thirdly, for those who consider themselves righteous or worthy, this story is also a reminder to check to see whether that is true.
The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous and yet they couldn’t have been more wrong, otherwise Jesus would not have had to send them away to learn what the bible meant. The Pharisees were righteous only in their own eyes. And we need to make sure that we are not only righteous in our own eyes too.
And fourthly, this story has much to say about the church and its mission. Because if Jesus spent his time with the undesirable people, the uneducated, those whose jobs were looked down on by society, with the ordinary people that the Pharisees had no time for, where does that imply that, as a church, our mission should be?
Yes, the church has welfare agencies, and they probably do a great job in providing emergency housing, bond assistance, marriage preparation, budgeting, and a number of areas where largely government funding is available. But that does not excuse us as a church in our role as a congregation, or even as individuals, in continuing Jesus’s ministry to those around us as well.
So today, do you feel that you’re not good enough? Do you feel as though you’ve made a silly mistake in life and can’t forgive yourself for it? Do you feel as though you are not important, that you have no special talents or abilities, and that others are so much better than you are? Do you even feel that you are a waste of space, with nothing to offer?
If any of that’s true, then this story is for you. Because rest assured you are Jesus’s kind of person. You’re not only the kind of person that he would spend time with, if he were around today, but he would also be able to identify some hidden talents and abilities that even you don’t know that you have. And in a world where sometimes there is little encouragement, there can be no greater message of hope.
Today, you are important in his eyes. You have reason to keep living and for life to have meaning. And, today, you should be important in the eyes of the church too.
Posted: 12th May 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis