CALLOUSED COLLEAGUES CLOUD
There is nothing quite like sitting down to eat with friends and families. As my former Church Discipline professor told my class, “It is hard to eat with someone with whom you are angry.” There is something about food, friendship and family that make for an enjoyable time of sharing a repast. Such was the instance here.
Jesus had just commissioned Matthew to come and follow Him and it appears that Matthew, out of gratitude, gave a party for this most Honored Guest. For Matthew to simply up and leave his post as a Tax Collector was something very momentous. He had to pay a steep price to get this job and he made his living off the excesses he charged people who paid him their taxes. He then gave to Rome what he was billed regarding the tax revenue and he made good money in the process. For him to up and give it all away and follow Jesus was a tremendous change of heart and life styles. Yet, Matthew did just that and to cement his decision, he gave a party for his new “Boss” and announced to his friends and family his newfound calling of being a disciple of Jesus.
Since Matthew had a job-working for the Romans-it can be assumed that he was not the most liked person in the community. Certainly, the rich and well-to-do did not like this publican because he no doubt did his share of “gouging” them in the past. It can also be assumed, from the text, that he really did not have any or few influential people who liked him. The text says that there were publicans and sinners who came to the feast given by Matthew. Later, some snooty Pharisees made their appearances, but from all practical purposes, Matthew had few upper crust friends and yet he wanted to share with them what he had and to announce to everyone that from now on-things would be different.
As I study the passages before me, I see three things here. The first part of my sermon has to do with the CONVIVIALITY of Jesus and the ones who came to celebrate Matthew’s new way of living. The next part of the text reveals a CONTROVERSY that erupted when the Pharisees condescended on this celebration. Lastly, I note the CLARIFICATION given by Jesus to these party crashers and told them that they had a long way to go before they could really pass judgment on anyone else. The celebration started on a good note; it then took a dip in the happy mood evident at the mealtime; then, Jesus righted the situation and the joy returned to the guests and to all who came to celebrate Matthew’s Supper.
I. CONVIVIALITY: Matthew picks up the mood of the supper he gave for his Most Honored Guest by telling us who the guests were before the Pharisees arrived and weighed in on Jesus.
The mood of the supper, at least in my mind, had to be one of a Cheerful tone. I do not see anything in verses nine and ten that convince me that this supper was a solemn event. That mood seems to begin to surface in verses eleven through fourteen. Otherwise, the first two verses of this text of mine appear that the supper was one of conviviality and happiness. It is hard to enjoy a festive meal with sorrow and pessimism rearing their ugly heads. Maybe I argue from the point of silence, but I think the atmosphere here was a happy one. Matthew was just starting on a new life and he wanted to show everyone his newfound Friend and Leader.
Another point I make about the CONVIVIALITY of this special meal is due to the attendees who are mentioned in verses nine and ten: the publicans and sinners.
I notice that there were no people of high status mentioned here. There are no governors, leaders, princes, landowners, or anyone of high standing in that society mentioned as guests at this special supper. From all appearances, it seems that the common people were there at the start, which held no claim to fame or were given to pretentious posturing. In fact, these ones first mentioned were Common people who knew Matthew and were probably the ones who owed little to no taxes. If they did, Matthew could have been kind to them and could have charged them just what Rome wanted and no more.
These common people came with little expectations and nothing to offer except friendship and kindness to Matthew. They were the ones who appreciated anyone showing them attention and providing a good meal for their hungry stomachs. They came with their crude manner of living. They came with their zest for life. They came in their best of clothes, which were probably not very good. They came to eat, to laugh and to sit with the Rabbi who was already gaining a great deal of attention. They came because they were honored to be chosen to sit and dine with Jesus. They came knowing that He would accept them for who they were. It is no wonder they were having a good time. They came knowing they would not be criticized or condemned. They came because they felt that Jesus was one of them and they came to make the most out of this most unusual invitation. They came because Matthew must have been their friend and they must have felt that if Matthew liked to invite them-they would not turn down such an unusual invitation.
The CONVIVIALITY of the night was Contagious. Once at the supper and once the meal was being consumed, the entire group lightened up with jokes, stories puns and gentle ridicule of each other. In other words, they felt at home and the mood of the supper was contagious and enlightening. I have a feeling that the banter that went back and forth that night might have been at the expense of Matthew and maybe even Jesus. I would not think it to be odd if some of the group chided Jesus for picking a taxman with all the ramifications that that line of thinking could generate. I would not be surprised if the guests did not tease Matthew about him wearing out his welcome with the hated Romans and that he might have been defrauding the people too much and not giving all to Rome that he should have given. I feel that the supper was one great success and everyone was having a great time including Jesus. I also feel that He must have broken into a hearty laugh several times during that meal as the supper was headed for a great send off for Matthew. I think the food was excellent-Matthew could afford a good spread. The entertainment-themselves-was superb and everyone was enjoying oneself to the fullest possible means.
However, I also feel that at sometime during the festivities, that the party “went south” with the arrival of the Pharisees. This was too bad. The Pharisees were able to ruin another good time for Jesus. These supercilious saints were able to make milk curdle just by looking at it. Yet the message Jesus delivered that night to these august, erudite men is worth studying and I feel that everyone at that meal that night learned some new insights into Jesus and His teachings, which are still with us today.
II. CONTROVERSY: Why is it that some people are just natural “downers?” They never see the glass half-full; they see it as half-empty. I am convinced that there are some people who are happy when they are miserable and miserable when they are happy. To me, it seems as if the Pharisees were of this onerous group. I do not see them in the opening verses of my text, but they make their ugly appearance in verses eleven through fourteen. I can just imagine that whenever they start to talk, one could expect nothing but doom and gloom from them. They remind me of a situation, which confronted my college president, whom I was fortunate to know. We had several talks and to me this man was a saint. However, there was one man on the College Board that was nothing but trouble. Mr. College President told me much later, that he could be having one terrific day and if he looked out the window and saw this board member drive onto campus, my friend said that he just knew that the day was ruined. This must be how the people felt when the Pharisees showed themselves and began to talk.
The first thing I note about the second part of my sermon has to do with a theological question-at least to the Pharisees. The question they asked the disciples of Jesus was very simple, “Why does your Master eat with such riff-raft?” They might have phrased the question in a theological manner, but in reality, this showed true Contempt for Jesus and the poor people. They were not near as concerned about their doctrine of separation from the common person as they were to make their point known that in reality the Pharisees had real disdain for the common people. This was one area of many, which separated Jesus from the rest of the crowd. He had no condescension, no aloofness from the common person. He came to minister to all. Every person was equal in His eyes. This one thing drove His opposition into a frenzy. He refused to take the bait they threw at Him and this made them hate Jesus with such bitter and long lasting hatred.
I wonder if my religion makes me just as responsible to all as He taught all of us? I wonder if I give more credence to the learned rather than the unlearned. I hope I embrace all in my love for Jesus. It can be hard at times not to be partial, but if I am to be His representative here on this earth, I must be like Him.
Not only did the Pharisees show great disdain in this supposed disagreement with Jesus, but the entire thing was also geared to create Confusion among the guests. All the Pharisees needed to do were to sow seeds of doubt and cast some small aspersions on the common people and the rest would take care of itself. When asked such a terrible question, most of the publicans and sinners would immediately begin to feel like they were nobodies, the scum of the Earth. This was not what Jesus wanted. He views all people as needing Him with no degrees of position or rank. He wants all people to come to Him and say they are sorry for their own sins. Everyone needs to come to Jesus on a level playing field and confess themselves to be who they are-sinners in need of His forgiveness. There are no levels of sin in the eyes of Jesus. The Pharisees tried to set in motion confusion among the guests and their work would be done. Jesus never let them succeed, as we shall see later.
Besides the Pharisees trying to create a great deal of agitation at the supper by showing their open disdain for the common man, they wanted to shame Jesus for His association with such people who were guests of Matthew. By trying to stir up a negative perception of the common people, the Pharisees showed a great fear of Contamination by the poor people. They really felt that the poor people were so polluted that by mere association with them-regardless of how limited any contact with the common people, the Pharisees would be contaminated by the mere presence of these guests at that meal. How misguided they were.
I remember when we served as missionaries. We fell in love with the pastors and people of our denomination who lived in their native land. Often they came to see us and we offered them our best seats, served them coffee out of our cups, and let them eat off our plates. It was not until our time was almost over and we were soon to return to America that we were told a secret by our Christian brothers and sisters in that land of our labor. They told us that the head missionaries would never let them sit on their cushioned couches and chairs, but made them sit on hard, straight back chairs during their visits. The head missionaries would never let them use their glasses nor their cups. The indigenous Christians of our denomination were served a bottle of pop with a straw in it so the nationals would not “contaminate” any vessels used by these missionaries. In addition, if they were ever served any food on regular dinner ware by the head missionaries-they were served on paper plates. I was aghast. The nationals told us that when we first arrived and they would come to see us to welcome us or to talk with us, they were shocked that we thought they were not dirty and contaminated people. I could not-I still cannot fathom the fact-of such treatment by missionaries openly displayed to the ones they came to serve. I feel chagrined over the way my fellow Christians were treated by those super saints.
The Pharisees were in league with these former missionaries who looked down on the common people-the ones they were sent to serve. I conclude that this is not the way of my Jesus. It was not His way then, it was not His way with these outdated missionaries and it is not His way today. He would not hear of it and soon rose to the occasion to defend the people at that supper and for all people of the world. What He had to say to the hypocrites was pertinent and necessary. We now turn to His task of setting the Pharisees straight.
III. CLARIFICATION: With the Pharisees making their bold move to try and trap Jesus and His followers by their twisted logic, Jesus was not about to let them get the upper hand at this feast given in His honor. Once they spoke, they opened themselves for a rebuttal from the Master.
The first thing He did was to clarify just who were the ones that were in need, by saying that a well person did not need the services of a doctor. The ones that needed the help of medical personnel were the ones that had an ailment. As such, He was able to set the parameters of the entire evening and to put everything into a right perspective. By referring to the needs of a sick person seeking the help of a doctor, Jesus was saying that the one element of the healing profession was Compassion. To be sick and in need of a touch from a doctor meant that besides the medicinal prescription given by the doctor, the simple charity of tenderness and compassion were needed to help heal the patient. This is something that has recently come to the forefront in our world today, regarding the art of healing. People are complex and besides the physical need of help, there is the psychological need of reassurance and kindness from the doctor to help the patient get better. The Pharisees seem to be lacking in this last part. They could prescribe all kinds of laws, of dos and don’ts, but they were not the ones to have compassion on the poor people. Jesus simply countered their hair splitting theological doctrines by reminding them that the poor publicans and sinners did not need the Law as they saw it, they needed love and kindness to help them become better Jewish people and better followers of God. The Pharisees were at a lost as to how to bring compassion into their teaching-it was all a matter of following regulations, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus said this approach to living for God was wrong.
Besides the need for Compassion, Jesus also gave them a lesson for their intellectual prowess to clarify for themselves. He instructed them to go and to Contemplate just what was needed for them to become better Jewish people. He told them that His Heavenly Father wanted mercy, compassion, and not sacrifices of the individual for service to Him. He added a caveat-go and study this somewhere else, not here. The depth of these words of Jesus was beyond their grasp that day. Jesus was saying to the so-called self-righteous people called the Pharisees that they were not near the kingdom of heaven in their stupidity. They had failed to grasp the real intent of God’s just law. What these learned men needed to do was to go and weigh the need for human souls against their rituals and laws. He was simply telling them that they were missing a lot by being so rigid.
If the Church of Jesus Christ is to survive in today’s world, we as Christians need to remember the words of Jesus, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice…” I did not come to call the righteous people to repentance; I came to call the sick ones who need a touch of my mercy on their ruined lives. Today, we seem to have lost the importance of the individual in our mega churches. With the pressing need of monetary obligations and all kinds of programs, we somehow have come to overlook the one-to-one connection that millions of hurting people need in our day. We are more than just a number on a roster. We are more than just a warm body to fill a seat in someone’s church. We are mortals who are hurting and we are sick. We do not need more laws that are impossible to keep-we need the mercy and compassion of Jesus. Only He can change people and only He can stem the rising tide of secularism, Mohammedanism and materialism. We need His tender touch more now than ever before. We need to take Him with us to the sinners and the publicans and sit with them and laugh with them and show them that Jesus is for them. If we can do that, we will have learned and applied what He meant back there at the supper given by Matthew.
One more part of His CLARIFICATION of the need for right learning in serving Him is contained in the Commission: clarification, of His words to us and to the world. The Pharisees were comfortable in their own little world, studying their laws and thinking they were right with God. However, they were not able to reach mankind because they were too ingrown. I sometimes think we, as a Church, have become too ingrown for our own good. We need to go and tell the hurting world that Jesus has the answers for it. We need to reach out beyond our walls to reach others who are hurting and we need to tell them that there is One who is full of compassion and He embodies the concept of Mercy to the entire world.
The supper started out so well, then it hit a bump in the road, but Jesus refused to allow the Pharisees to ruin the supper and to make the guest feel bad. He rose to their defense and declared that the people at that supper were the very ones for whom He came. I do not know the ending of that meal, but I can rest assured that the guests and the host, Matthew, were delighted to hear Jesus tell everyone that He was at home with these people and these were the ones He came to save. He has not changed in all this time. He is still seeking out the publicans and the sinners to make them better because he has shown them compassion and mercy instead of justice.