do the actual work of collecting taxes. Thus, Matthew might well have been a middle level employee, rather than a rich man in his own right. However, he and any tax collector could become rich through extortion. It was permissible to charge a certain amount over and above the tax required in order to receive compensation. That’s how the tax collector got paid. Of course, a cut of that would go to the chief tax collector in the area. A vicious circle developed. The more the tax collectors collected, the more they were hated, and the more they were hated the more they collected. Being Jews working for the occupying government made them traitors and being Jews coming into contact with Gentiles, merchants from around the world, and other sinners, made them religiously and ceremonially, unclean. Thus, tax collectors had three strikes against them even before they came to bat.
He said to him, “Follow me.” There is no mention of a previous conversation and no hint that Jesus and Matthew had met before. However, the form of the command is in the present tense, which means to continue to follow, to keep on following. The emphasis here is not on the conditions that led Matthew to accept, but on his unconditional acceptance. Matthew left a whole way of life in order to follow Jesus. He may well have been wealthy, but perhaps only on his way to wealth. Nonetheless, he left it all and followed Jesus. Fishermen might and did, return to their former occupation, but not tax collectors. Rome would not hire him again, should he have changed his mind and tried to return. This was a irrevocable commitment, one made without knowing the “benefit package.”
In verse ten, “And as he sat at dinner in the house,” “He” refers to Jesus and “his” refers to Matthew. The new disciple’s resignation and renunciation was not a grim affair. Indeed, he threw a party! Luke calls it “a great feast.”
Many tax collectors and sinners came: This note sets up the scenario for Jesus’ pronouncement regarding whom he came for. One would not expect the guest list for a party held to honor a religious teacher to be replete with sinners and tax collectors but that is just what happened. These were social outcasts.
In verse eleven, “When the Pharisees saw this,” the Pharisees would not have been at the dinner, but like many “reputable,” and “respectable,” people, they were nosy. They liked to observe everyone else living their lives, perhaps out of jealousy that their own lives were so dull, thanks to their religion. However, houses were much more open then and there and they could have come very close without notice or even come in like the woman who came into Simon the leper’s house and anointed Jesus, Matthew 26: 26-27. Their entering the house is highly unlikely, however, given their fear of becoming “unclean,” themselves by virtue of close association with the unclean. Matthew is probably telling us what happened afterwards, when they heard about it through the gossip mill.
And said to