Title: The Messiah’s authority over men
Scriptures to Read: Read Mark 2:13-17; Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 5:27-32
The second stage of investigation: Interrogation
Here we begin to see the second stage of the investigation: the stage of interrogation.
Matthew was a tax collector
Here we have the calling of the seventh disciple called Matthew, also called Levi the son of Alphaeus. By profession he was a tax collector. The job of a tax collector or publican was actually forbidden by the Jewish law. But some tax collectors chose to bid for the office, not because Rome paid well, but because of what Rome allowed them to get away with.
Matthew was the worst kind of tax collector
There were two types of tax collectors. Both were bad, but one was worse than the other. The lesser of the two evils was the income tax collector. The worst kind though was the customs official. They charge you for stuff you buy outside the country. Luke’s account in verse 27 specifies that he was sitting at the place of the toll which meant that Matthew was a customs official. So Matthew was the worst kind of publican you could possibly be. And rabbinic writings emphasize the issue of honesty, but when dealing with a customs official publican they said it was permitted to smuggle goods behind his back, because, just as a man might hide his things to keep them from being stolen by a thief, so it was the same principle to get around a publican: simply protecting your goods from being stolen by a thief. There are many other rules and regulations that we won’t get into at this point.
Tax Collectors were hated for two specific reasons
Tax collectors were hated for two specific reasons. First of all, they were working on behalf of the Romans, or in other words they were working on behalf of the Gentile subjugating authorities. And secondly, they became wealthy by extorting from their own people. So once a man decided to become a publican he was ostracized from Jewish society and the rabbis issued many rules and regulations against them. Among these rules was that only two classes of society were allowed to associate with them- Other publicans and prostitutes. The term sinner in some of these passages is a euphemism for prostitute.
The calling of Matthew to follow Jesus
And to this man he says at the end of verse 27: “Follow Me.” And normally when you have this kind of position you didn’t simply get up and leave it. You would have to make other arrangements and find replacements. But Matthew recognises that the authority of the Messiah supersedes the authority of Rome. So in Luke verse 28: “he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him”. This marks the point of Matthew’s new birth. So what he decides to do is give himself a new birth birthday party. But what kind of people attend Matthew’s new birth birthday party? Only other publicans and sinners, who are prostitutes. Jesus and the other six disciples are also there. This simply contradicts the rabbinic practice of that day.
The Pharisees question the company that Jesus keeps
And so in Mark at the end of verse 16 they raise the objection: “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And the point of the objection is that if he really were the Messiah he would not associate with this class of society.
Jesus came to call the unrighteous and sinners to repentance
Jesus responds by saying three things (Matthew 9:12-13):
1. First of all, it is not the people who are well that need a physician, but those who are sick. The Pharisees saw themselves as being spiritually healthy and declared the publicans to be spiritually sick. So should he not go to them as a spiritual physician to bring about some healing?
2. Secondly, he points out the Pharisees are characterised by much sacrifice, but lack mercy. Now being characterised by sacrifice shows they are very careful to keep the external demands of the Mosaic Law. They were not as zealous to keep the internal demands of the Mosaic Law, such as showing mercy. And their lack of mercy is seen in their many rules and regulations against the publicans.
3. And thirdly, he didn’t come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners. The Pharisees saw themselves as being among the righteous ones. The publicans were declared to be unique sinners, especially customs official publicans. So should not he go to them to bring them to repentance?