Thursday, August 2, 2012

Questionable Behavior - Matthew 9:9-17

Love Trumps Appearances

9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him.

10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.

11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?"

12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.

13 "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Let's look at Matthew first. He started out as a pretty bad guy - a tax collector. Now, I know we all hate the IRS, but this was a bigger deal back then: a tax collector betrayed his own people by working for their Roman oppressors and cheating them out of as much money as possible for personal profit. And yet, the *instant* Jesus calls him, he obeys. Furthermore, Matthew humbly omits this in his own gospel, but we learn from Luke 5:28-29 that Matthew was extremely rich and left everything behind to follow Jesus. Things are not always as they seem - the worst of sinners can become the most dedicated of Jesus's followers (see Luke 7:47).

This story loses its shock value once you've heard it a few times, but try to think of it in a modern context: What would you think if you saw your pastor at Olive Garden with half a dozen prostitutes? But that picture still doesn't render what it would have been like when Jesus did it, because in His day, dining with someone carried the cultural connotation of sharing with them, communing with them. Jews regularly refused to eat with certain groups of people, so Jesus doing this truly is revolutionary.

There's a critical lesson here. Let's look at 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler - not even to eat with such a one [there's the cultural aspect of sharing a meal, again]. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

Unfortunately, we as the American church tend to practice the opposite of what is taught here: We don't dare say a word when our fellow believers are willingly living in sin - having sex before marriage, using the Lord's name in vain in every other sentance - but we take public disapproval of sins such as homosexuality to the extreme of public hatred (for example - Chick-Fil-A taking a stand against homosexuality is honorable; but picketing the funerals of gay soldiers is deplorable).  We are supposed to be out among the world, showing God's love to everyone regardless of the sin they engage in. Jesus hang out at these tax collectors' wild parties, approving of them as people without approving of their behavior, and as a result, they came to know God.

[Side note - see this post on how to correct other believers.]

Now, let's look at the Pharisees really quickly. There are two times where people question Jesus's behavior - once above, and once in the verses below under the next heading; we'll contrast their motivations and approaches. The Pharisees are questioning as a way to condemn - they don't actually want to learn the answer; they're trying to trap Jesus and prove to the world that He's in the wrong. Here's another thing they do poorly: they question His disciples, not Jesus Himself. This opens up two possibilities: (1) They know Jesus will be able to refute them, as He does repeatedly (for example, Matthew 22:41-46), and/or (2) they're purposefully trying to plant doubts about their Teacher in the disciples' minds to draw them away from him.

Finally, what's Jesus talking about in verses 12-13 about the sick needing a doctor? Luke 5 gives a longer account of this event, and verse 32 tells us, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."  Now, is anyone truly righteous, spiritually healthy? No - but many, like the Pharisees, think they are. Jesus's point is that, yes, everyone is spiritually sick, but He's come to minister to the people who admit that they are sick. In this, the tax collectors - who freely admit they're sinners - are more righteous than the Pharisees, who pretend they're not. Let us be humble in heart and admit our spiritual illness.

Lecture at the Party

14 Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?"

15 And Jesus said to them, "The attendants of hte bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

16 "But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results.

17 "Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but htey put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved."

John the Baptist's disciples also question Jesus, but this scenario plays out much differently than the one with the Pharisees. Since their teacher praised Jesus so highly, it is reasonable to assume that they're questioning Him because they genuinely want to learn. Also notice that they came directly to Jesus to ask the man Himself - they're not talking about someone's allegedly faulty practice behind His back, but with Him.

And, as we can see, Jesus is happy to answer them directly. He explains that there simply would be no point to His disciples fasting while He's walking on this earth with them! People fast for different reasons, but the most common one is so that every pang of hunger will remind them to pray immediately, often for a specific issue. But Jesus's diciples at the time spent every moment of every day with Him, so they'd constantly be reminded of His presence.

Verses 16-17 can get a little convoluted, and there are many takes on what they mean. Here's what I think makes sense, particularly in context: No matter how many religious rituals (like fasting) you perform, it doesn't make any difference if you're not in a relationship with God. You can't just patch up or refresh your own life; you have to let God completely renew you for that to have any bearing - you have to be "born again."

If you haven't yet accepted Christ, click on the "How to Receive Salvation" tab near the top of the page. Nothing else is more important than this.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

Questions for You

Was there a time in your life before you got saved when you tried to fix yourself? How do you think we can reach out to the world in a way that shows God's love but does not condone their behavior? Share your answers, or any other questions or comments, by leaving a comment below.

Giving Credit Where It's Due

Picture Number One: The Calling of Matthew by Vittore Carpaccio. Wikimedia Commons.  {{PD-1923}} Public Domain in the United States. {{PD-old-100}} Public domain in Italy.

Picture Number Two: The Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot. Wikimedia Commons. {{PD-1923}} Public Domain in the United States. {{PD-old-100}} Public Domain in the European Union.


Alyssa Liljequist said...

Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog...I've responded there :).

This is a great post! You asked, "How do you think we can reach out to the world in a way that shows God's love but does not condone their behavior?"

This is something we all need to think about! We can let people know where we stand and show that we live by the principles we believe in (i.e. don't engage in their behavior). We can explain why we disagree with what they are doing. This should all be shared out of genuine concern and love. Hopefully, they will be able to tell that it is because we care about them that we are taking the time to share with them.

Sapphire said...

Thanks for dropping by, Alyssa! :-)

Great thoughts about sharing our views while making it clear that our motivation is love.