As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” -Matthew 9:9-13
When Jesus called Matthew to be a disciple and then ate dinner with him and his fellow tax collectors and other marginalized members of the community, the Pharisee’s were incredulous and in disbelief. After all, they knew Matthew and his peers as the tax collectors who demanded high taxes for the Roman government and pocketed the excess funds. They were not popular amongst the people in the community.
Jesus responds to his critics by saying, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
In this statement, Jesus challenges the status quo and social norms of his culture. The religious elite of his day would never have dined with sinners and discipled tax collectors. But Jesus did. And he wants to dine with and disciple us as well.
For even when we feel like we have it all together, we too fall short of the glory of God. We are all the sick in need of our Great Physician. We are all sinners in need of His righteousness to restore us once more. But God desires mercy, not sacrifice. And while we are called to sacrifice ourselves, laying down our lives for His kingdom come, we are called to do so through the lens of His perfect mercy and sacrifice on the cross, rather than the Old Testament sacrifice rituals that fail to bring us closer to Him or share His love with the world.
Jesus called Matthew to a different style of life. As a tax collector, he took from the people, rather than pouring himself out. Matthew was called and challenged by God to instead live a gospel- and others-centered life in which he shared the love and light of Jesus and the good news of His resurrection with those around him.
We too are called to a different style of life.