As Jesus moved on from there, he saw a man named Matthew, at his seat in the customhouse; and he said to him, “Follow me!” And Matthew got up and followed him. Now it happened, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why is it, that your master eats with sinners and tax collectors?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. Go, and find out what this means: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
When a country invades another country and occupies it for a time, the invaders always find among the local population a certain number of shameless citizens who will accept to collaborate with the invaders if it profits them. Naturally these traitors are heartily detested by the rest of the local population.
At the time of Jesus the Romans were occupying Palestine and bleeding it with all kinds of heavy taxes. But they paid local citizens to collect these taxes for them, thus making these tax collectors their collaborators. For this reason the Jewish population at large rightly looked on these collaborators as shameless traitors—“sinners” in the vocabulary of the Pharisees.
In today’s gospel reading we see Jesus choosing one of the tax collectors, Matthew by name (or Levi, according to another tradition), to be an apostle. And, quite understandably, the Pharisees take offense at this. Who wouldn’t? But Jesus is above our petty categories. However dark a person’s past may be, everything becomes possible when Jesus enters the picture.
And this applies to each one of us. We may think that we are too dumb or too old or too evil to be chosen by Jesus, but he will never give up on us.
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