The Company We Keep

Footsteps of Jesus

Matthew 9:9-13 (The Message)
Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him. Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “”What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?” Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

According to The New Interpreter’s Bible: “With whom one chose to eat was a matter taken seriously in first-century Judaism” (vol. VIII, 234). So it’s not surprising that one metaphor for the kingdom of God was a sumptuous banquet, with God as the gracious host. An early example of this can be found in Isaiah 25:6: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best of meats and the finest of wines.”

A teacher like Jesus would have been expected to share his meals with the religious elite, with the crème de la crème, or, at minimum, with the “acceptable” people of society. But, instead, Jesus chooses as his dinner partners people on the outskirts of acceptable. In today’s passage, he invites a tax collector to be his disciple. Tax collectors were reviled in Jewish society. They had chosen to ally themselves with the occupying Roman government, and to reap financial benefits from the arrangement. The Pharisees– a strict religious group known for holding themselves above and apart from the rest of the Jews– were appalled. A despised tax collector! Exactly what kind of teacher was this Jesus? They just could not understand.

Question:
How do you feel about being included at Jesus’ banquet? What is your picture of what heaven will be like?

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