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 his disciples: They were too cowardly to face Jesus, so they complained to his disciples. They do not so much ask a question seeking information as they lodge a criticism seeking accusation. Some rabbis, but certainly not all, would lower themselves to teach sinners, but they would never share a meal with them. That was too close. That would be like accepting them, if not approving of their behavior. How could Jesus be a religious person, let alone teacher, and associate with such riffraff?
In verse twelve, “Those who are well do not need a physician,” their question was not addressed to Jesus, but he overheard it and answered directly, rather than through a spokesperson, like many an important modern day Pharisee might. The illustration, comparing sinners to sick people and himself to a physician, is easy to understand and apply to the question. The Pharisees would have considered themselves among the “well,” and the tax collectors and sinners among the “sick.” Jesus left that to them, but he was saying he came to meet people where they were and help them to get to where they should be. He did not come to frown on, to condemn, to isolate or to shame those in need of salvation. Nor did he come to side with the gloaters, the smug, the arrogant.