I am working my way through Matthew slowly, focusing in on how Jesus responds and interacts with others and how to model life after him. In Matthew 9 Jesus is seen hanging out with non religious people. In fact, it wasn’t just that they weren’t religious but scripture says they were sinners, and tax collectors. While we might not love the IRS, the place tax collectors had in Jesus’ day were on a whole other level. Tax collectors often taxed people extra just to line their own pockets and were often labeled as traitors because many were Jews who worked for the Romans. Not people you’d want to be hanging out with. In addition to the tax collectors mentioned in this passage, it says Jesus was hanging out with sinners. The NLT version calls them scum. Yikes.
To make this more applicable think of someone among us today that is considered disdained? Who is seen as someone you wouldn’t want to be around because of their beliefs, their lifestyle, their orientation, or their livelihood? Put those people around the table with Jesus and imagine him relaxed and eating, poppin some olives in his mouth, enjoying his company (Jesus had just been healing a lot of people, dealing with a storm and I’m thinking he was happy to relax for a bit) and watching the religious people flip out about it.
They are not happy! They are wondering what the heck Jesus is doing. In fact, they ask Matthew why Jesus is hanging around these people and Jesus overheard. I find this interesting because I’m sure they meant for Jesus to hear. At this point I’m realizing that when Matthew got up and followed Jesus leaving behind his tax collecting days, his transformation was real and instant. How else do you explain a household of people mixed with both the religious and non-religious and Jesus with his disciples!? You know, those people wouldn’t have just come in unannounced, they were there on purpose. They were all invited to the table.
I’m guessing the religious people were wondering why Jesus didn’t take up the chance to call out their sins, maybe bring up a conversation about the way they were living their lives. Maybe the religious people were so ticked off that Jesus was just chilling and not defending himself, their view of religion or anything else. He didn’t seem concerned about any of that, but more about just being present. The religious leaders call Jesus out and he quotes a passage from the Old Testament he knew they’d all be familiar with. It’s from Hosea 6:6 and it says “I desire faithful love, not sacrifice” In Matthew it says “I desire mercy not sacrifice”. So what does that mean?
In the book of Hosea, Israel has returned to God but they have returned without repenting. God is looking for a changed heart, for a right relationship, but the Israelites just go through the motions, their rituals if you will. They make their sacrifices but there is nothing more. Maybe today that would look like showing up for church, going to Sunday School, giving your 10% and posting about doing your devotions daily. Maybe you fast and post scripture online. This whole thing, it’s relationship driven and it’s not one way- God desires it. The Israelites and us get it wrong so often. So Jesus is pointing to this passage to make a point. The religious leaders care so much about rules, following a script, participating in rituals and but that’s not what Jesus is concerned about.
God doesn’t want our empty rituals and our feel good actions, but a heart that is in right relationship with God and others. What does that look like? In another Old Testament passage it says “Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” Amos 5:23. The Message says this:
“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”
Are we just making noise? Are we just causing arguments on social media feeling justified because we use scripture? Are we changing our cymbals about loving others but not actually doing the hard work of loving others? Are we wailing about freedom forgetting that the reason we have freedom is for the sake of others and not ourselves?
Right relationship with God and others looks like justice, it looks like living out what has been modeled to us by Jesus. It looks like going places and doing things that are counter culture to many religious ceremonies or traditions because maybe we’ve gotten lost along the way and we have forgotten what it looks like to pursue holiness, righteousness and justice.
Look up the scriptures mentioned and read them a few times slowly and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you. What word or portion of scripture stood out to you the most? Spend some time sitting with the following reflections:
Am I willing to sit in uncomfortable places in order to be like Jesus?
Am I willing to admit going through the motions has left me feeling numb, empty and hopeless?
Am I making noise or am I making a difference?
Am I interested in seeking out community with people who aren’t like me for no other reason other than to be in relationship with them or am I always looking for an angle to confront, call out, “speak truth”?
How can I move forward in my own repentance this week that allows for personal transformation that then allows for others to see Jesus in me and not an agenda?