Written by Rhonda Neal
Scripture to Read: Matthew 9:9-13
Labels are useful in ordering life. We may use them to identify priority: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. We use labels to indicate use: for cooking, gardening, or graphic design. Labels may name location: north, east, below the sink, in the refrigerator. Rank is a commonly used label: lieutenant, sergeant, 3rd Class. Ownership may be the first label used, as children quickly employ “mine” to claim what belongs to them. A Christian seeks to align life with God’s desire but caution in labeling is warranted. We may easily make distinctions outside of God’s design.
Matthew writes a firsthand account of Jesus calling him as a disciple. Matthew served as a civic official collecting taxes under Roman supervision. Capernaum was a city port with a large customs center that employed many tax collectors. He was well compensated, though not well liked by fellow Jews. Publicans were equated with thieves, harlots, beasts, and other despicable groups. In fact, Rabbinical teaching considered the publican’s money tainted and anyone who accepted it defiled. Publicans were not welcomed to participate in any religious fellowship.
Matthew was likely aware of Jesus’ popularity and perhaps had heard him teach in various places in the city or by the seaside. He would certainly not have encountered him in the temple. His calling comes after Jesus’ healing of the paralytic and the public questioning from the religious leaders. So, when Jesus says, “follow Me”, the calling is not as impromptu as it might initially appear.
The decision to follow Jesus warranted celebration. Jesus and the disciples, along with many tax collectors and sinners (people whose jobs rendered them unclean according to the Pharisees) enjoyed a time of fun, food, and relaxation in Matthew’s home. Jesus’ behavior was reprehensible! A respectable Jewish teacher would never consider acknowledging such vermin as these, much less enjoy eating and relaxing with them! Ewww, disgusting!
Jesus responded to the Pharisee’s blatant distaste of the current gathering. The phrase “go and learn,” challenged listeners to base their positions on scripture. Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 that affirms God’s desire for compassion above adherence to ritual. The Pharisees’ self-righteous attitude was condemned by the very authority they claimed to honor.
So today, let us “go and learn.” Let us glory in a label-free life where all who confess Jesus as Lord celebrate His call to “Come, Follow Me.”