“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
“I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” is a powerful mission statement of Jesus describing the purpose of doing God’s mission of the Church which is called to be the living body of Christ. The Agenda of Jesus’s mission is to offer life to the lifeless and to those who are in helpless situations. The gulf between the dominant and the powerless and the struggle is an ongoing issue in the world. “Mission of God” is not a club activity of the dominant; rather, it is a call to restore the image of God in all with passion and transformation connotations. Jesus constantly worked in restoring the lost human consciousness in every individual to substantiate the purpose and meaning of creation. Accepting Jesus as Lord has a diverse understanding because of offering a new paradigm of life to all.
Who are tax collectors during Jesus' time?
During the time of Jesus, the people of Israel were under the imperial and colonial rule of Rome. The religious leaders had their local autonomy in matters relating to the life of the people. The temple was at their control, and the temple was not just a spiritual institution. It was the center of the people’s holistic life. The subjects of the society were under two authorities; politically, under Rome and religiously under Sanhedrin, Rome gave autonomy to the religious leaders to mitigate the revolts because the religious beliefs were so sensitive and complex. In such a context, Rome appointed people to collect the taxes for their government and such collectors were called publicans or apostates.
They were considered as proxies of Rome and gained hatred from the public. They imposed unredeemable taxes and had their loyalty to the Roman Imperials. They gained more profit by unjustifiable taxes. They were seen as traitors and thieves of people and considered as defiled elements because of their association with the enemy, the Romans.
The hostility over tax collectors tagged them as “Sinners”. Here the tax collector was none other than Mathew, and the record from Mathew 9:9 substantiates the argument. Normally, Jews will have two names, and many theologians suggest the name as Levi Mathew, who became the disciple of Jesus.
I see these booths as the places that symbolically represent oppression and exploitation. The people were under great oppression because the Roman government operated in a very systematic way at various levels to maintain their supremacy over the poor. Jews always believed in the Rule of God-Theocracy. In reality, their dreams were shattered by the foreign powers because of their military inefficiency and their ideological schisms. Rome was a superpower, and these centers represented their authority over people, their work and earnings. People were drained by the taxes which made their lives more miserable. The taxes were collected in harsh methods. The people paid money to Temple to maintain their religious commitments and paid compulsory taxes for their income.
Taxes were imposed on custom goods. Even tolls were collected for the usage of roads and bridges of that time. So, the people who indulged in such tax collections were socially abandoned by people, politically treated as traitors and religiously labelled as sinners. Mathew was sitting in that booth to collect the taxes. But Jesus liberated him from his box and made him an agency of salvation; I mean an agent to liberate people from worldly clutches that haunt life every day. We have to find such boxes and breach the forces that negate the freedom for us and others.
Jesus said to Matthew, “Follow me.” And he followed him without any question. The unconditional obedience of Mathew describes his agony over his work as well as his dissatisfaction over the colonial set-up. His attitude highlights the aspiration to repent and begin a new life in God by following Christ. His immediate response explicates his search for a better way of life. Following Jesus, is an opposite turn from the job he was assigned. Jesus' movement offered abundance of life and catered to the exploited and the oppressed. It connected people socially and enabled them to realise the reign of God.
The politics of power was defused by the power of love for one another. Matthew believed in the words of Jesus which enabled him to envision the future. Apparently, the transition of Mathew to Jesus indicates a mystic and divine experience which cannot be comprehended in total, but it can be felt at a spiritual domain. Following Jesus is not simple; it requires one to turn from the world and prepares him/her to be an agency of Christ to offer life to the people in the world. It demands us to offer life to the lifeless not to overfeed the self-righteous or the privileged. Mathew left his lucrative employment, positions, and his authority for Jesus because he affirmed the truth and chose the way of Christ, which calls our attention not to deepen our parochial attachments but to reach the reality of life and to enhance every human to have equal access over life. The disparities in life distribute horrific situations and cause civic unrest. The movement of Jesus is the movement of Love engendering all of us for peaceful co-existence and sustainable living.
Jesus - “Friend of Sinners and Tax Collectors?”
Jesus extends his relationship to all and especially to transform the people who are socially rejected, politically muted, and spiritually de-codified. Jesus’ ethics includes everyone and attends to the odds of the society with a moral appeal and not by force.
Religion should be a moral obligation or it becomes another institution to display power to dictate. But the religion of the Pharisees was so judgmental. The “Jesus Movement” was optimistic and open. The religion of Jesus displays its roots in Love for others like oneself which expresses the Love of God in total. Jesus indicates that “only the sick need the physician”; the mission of the church should always focus for the needy not the greedy. (The Learning Pod in partnership with the Lions Club at St. James’ and the Barnie Parker Sharing Shed at St. John’s are some of our novel expressions of doing missions at this COVID 19 crisis. I would continue to urge you to contribute to such noble acts.)