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. Matthew 9.9
In Jesus’ day tax collectors were considered some of the worst kinds of sinners by the religious elite. Matthew himself records that when Jesus came to dinner at his house, many “tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.” (Matthew 9.10)
Tax collectors and sinners.
The Jewish people hated tax collectors because tax collectors worked for Rome, collected Roman taxes imposed upon the Jews and were known to be extortionists of large sums of money with which they filled their own pockets.
The tax collectors were often Jewish…working for Rome…and hated by their own people.
Thus, tax collectors and sinners.
What is striking about Jesus’ calling of Matthew, the tax collector, is not so much that he called Matthew to follow. Jesus is known for calling sinners to repentance and to follow him.
What is striking is when Jesus extended the invitation to Matthew.
Matthew is sitting at his tax collector’s booth when Jesus calls, “Follow me.
Jesus doesn’t wait until Matthew clocks out for the day. Jesus doesn’t wait until Matthew’s day off. Jesus doesn’t wait for Matthew to repent and resign from his position.
Jesus calls Matthew to follow him while Matthew is in the very act of that which makes him a sinner.
I used to think of church this way: Imagine a mom getting her house all clean in preparation for visitors. While she cleans, her two boys are playing football in the yard. When it’s time for the boys to come in, the mom stops them at the door and commands, “Go into the garage and take off those dirty clothes. I just got the house clean, company is arriving soon and I don’t want you to mess it all up.”
Now I think of church this way: Imagine an emergency room in which the tile floor has been made spotless, the bed sheets are pristine white and all the surgical instruments are bright, shiny and sterilized. When a car accident victim arrives and hemorrhaging blood, the intake person stops the gurney at the door and commands, “Stop! Don’t bring that person in here! We just got the room clean and sterile. I don’t want you to mess it all up.”
That’s not how it works. The patient is accepted into the room in the midst of their pain. A bloody mess.
And that’s how Jesus calls us. We’re accepted into his care in the midst of our sin. A bloody mess.
Jesus doesn’t wait until we get our act together to call us to follow him.
Jesus calls us while we’re sitting in our tax collectors’ booths.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5.8