Put yourself in the crowd following Jesus along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus is announcing good news of the restoration of God’s kingdom, so you’re expecting him to solve Israel’s problems, to get rid of the Satan-servants and sinners. Look, there’s one right here — that twisted wretch at his toll booth. Perhaps Jesus will overturn his tables and drive him out of the region.
The reaction of Jesus may have been regarded very strange, him not treating the tax collector as a scumbag, but treating him as a person — a human being with a name:
9 9 Moving on from there, Jesus saw a person named Matthew seated in the toll collection booth, and said to him,
He stood up and followed him.
We even got to read that Jesus came to share the meal with many tax collectors and sinners.
We all know that God’s blessing comes to the person who does NOT walk with the wicked, or stand with sinners, or sit with those whose lifestyle mocks Israel’s God and his laws (Psalm 1:1).
So, what about this man and his followers or diciples?
9 11 The Pharisees noticed and queried his students,
“What’s this? Your teacher entertains tax collectors and sinners?”
9 12 Overhearing what they said, Jesus said,
“It isn’t those who are strong who need a healer; it’s the ones who aren’t doing well.”
Mr. Browne sees that
There’s the core difference between Jesus and his contemporaries. The Pharisees want to cure Israel’s woes by cutting out the cancer that’s sucking the life-blood out of the nation. The Satan-serving tax collectors and the Law-breaking sinners are the reason why the kingdom of God has not been restored. Get rid of them so that Israel’s God does not have to look on their offences, and Israel will be restored as his people again. That’s their belief.
Jesus, on the other hand, wants to cure the cancer, to restore these distorted outgrowths of evil as true human beings again, to restore all God’s people as his kingdom. That’s why he’s spending his life with those who are the worst, the people everyone else regards as beyond help.
We may not forget that the sent one of God has a task given by his heavenly Father. It is not a mission to overthrow the occupants with violence? Though
King Jesus’ mission is to rescue his people. All of them.
What others are saying
Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H, 1992), 157:
Jesus’ fraternizing with disreputable people remains a scandal in the predominantly middle class, suburban, Western church. Many of us, like the Pharisees, at best ignore the outcasts of our society and at worst continue to discriminate against them. We do well to consider substantially increasing our spiritual, evangelistic, and social outreach to minorities, the homeless, prostitutes, addicts and pushers, gays and lesbians, AIDS victims, and the like, as well as to the more hidden outcasts such as divorcees, single parents, the elderly, white-collar alcoholics, and so on. We must get to know them as intimately as Jesus did — only close and trusted friends shared table fellowship over meals. We dare not join with sinners in their sinning, but we may well have to go places with them and encounter the world’s wickedness in ways that the contemporary Pharisees in our churches will decry.
David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 254:
Jesus’s social interaction with notorious sinners scandalized the Pharisees of his own day, and it likewise tends to embarrass those in our day whose views about separation from worldliness stress externals rather than personal integrity. Association with unbelievers must be handled with wisdom so that ethical compromise is avoided, but fear of such compromise cannot become an excuse for isolation from those who most need the message of the kingdom (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9–10).