In the Fulness of Time/Part 48

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2007
Matthew chapter records an event when Jesus ate a meal in the home of Levi (Matthew), a tax collector, in the company of other “tax collectors and sinners.” Why would the sinless Son of God associate with sinners? Dr. Figart gives the wonderful answer.

Previous Article

Authority Over Intellectual Forces: Answering Questions. Matthew 9:9-17

Question of the Pharisees Ritual Versus Repentance. 9:9-13

The Occasion: The Call of Matthew and the feast in his home. 9:9-10

Matthew 9:9 “And as Jesus passed forth from there, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the tax office; and he saith unto him, Follow me, and he arose and followed him.”

Matthew is called “Levi, the son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14), designates himself as a “tax collector” (Matthew 10:3), and here specifically as one “sitting at the tax office.” Though there are some small discrepancies in the listings of the structure of tax collection in the Roman Empire, the order seems to be as follows: At the top were the Publicani, the rich Roman Knights who purchased the tax franchises and collected taxes for a fixed sum, which would go into the treasury of the Empire. They, in turn, hired men called Great Mokhes, who served a district, like Zacchaeus, known as “chief of the tax collectors” (Luke 19:2). These men would hire local tax collectors who sat at the custom houses. This third level included the Gabbai, who collected the ground tax, income tax and poll tax; and the Small Mokhes, who collected taxes on imports and exports, bridge tax, road tax, harbor tax, license tax and any other tax he could invent for his own profit. He, like Matthew, sat at the custom house and was responsible to submit a strict account to the government. Anything above this he could keep for himself. Needless to say, there was much extortion from his own people, so that the Small Mokhes was hated most of all. The word “publican” came to be used generally of all levels of tax collectors.

Matthew 9:10 “And it came to pass, as Jesus sat eating in the house, behold many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.”

Luke 5:29 calls this meal “a great feast” which Matthew prepared “in his own house” for Jesus, His disciples and “many tax collectors and sinners.” There is no specific number given, but Luke 5:29 calls it “a great company.”

The Question: Why do Jesus and His Disciples eat with tax collectors and sinners? 9:11

Matthew 9:11 “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with tax collectors and sinners?”

The first group, the “tax collectors,” was despised for their political deviation and their financial oppression of the Jews. The second group, “sinners,” was despised by the Phari­sees for their religious neglect. They were “sinners” in a specific way, since they did not keep the laws concerning required rituals and sacrifices. For a Pharisee to come close enough to be touched by such a person would make him ceremonially unclean, necessitat­ing a lengthy and expensive ritual. However, the Law of Moses did not forbid eating with such sinners; it actually reached out to sinners (see Leviticus 16:30), while tradition shut them out. In Luke 11:52 Jesus rebuked this attitude: “Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” Christ reached out through this wall of tradition to bring sinners in!

The Reply: God wants Repentance, not Ritual. 9:12-13

The Principle from the Physical World. 9:12
Matthew 9:12 “But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that are well need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

In the physical realm a physician need not minister to the healthy, or at least to those who think they are healthy. They see no need of his help, and he in turn would be busy tending to those who did express a need for him. Later, in Matthew 23:27-28 Christ ex­poses the Pharisees for what they really are, not just sick, but “Ye are like whited sepul­chers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but within ye are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness… within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” How utterly sad is self-deception! They were not only sick; they were dead!

The Principle from the Spiritual World. 9:13
Matthew 9:13 “But go and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

This quotation from Hosea 6:6 is used again by Christ in Matthew 12:7, when He re­buked the Pharisees for their condemnation of the disciples who plucked and ate grain on the Sabbath. The disciples were hungry, but did nothing wrong in the presence of the Lord of the Sabbath. Here in 9:13 the Pharisees condemned Jesus and the disciples for eating with sinners; but Jesus was merely fulfilling His mission as the Son of Man Who came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He did not come to call the righteous, for they see no need for repentance. They, the Pharisees were offering the proper “sacri­fice” but the Lord was seeking those who exhibited the mercy of God. Referring again to Matthew 23, the scribes and Pharisees are called hypocrites, “For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23). Or, to put it as Samuel did, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hear­ken than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15:22).

It was the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who needed to change; they had the ritual without repentance. In the fulness of time, when the Lord returns, they will be judged and eternally separated from those who have been made righteous in Christ!

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