Summary: What would you do if your pastor had lunch with an IRS agent who you knew abused you? Or, what if that same IRS agent became a dynamic pastor? Would you listen or turn away? Can you set judgement aside? Want-a-be Pharisees in your church?

September 15, 2013

The Worst of them All

There was a man who computed his taxes for the year and found he owed $3407. He packaged up his payment and included this letter:

Dear IRS: Enclosed is my Tax Return and payment. Please take note of the attached article from the USA Today newspaper. In the article you will see that the Pentagon is paying $171.50 for hammers and NASA has paid $600 for a toilet seat. Please find enclosed four toilet seats (value $2400) and six hammers (value $1029). This brings my total payment to $3429. Please note the overpayment of $22, and apply it to the Presidential Election Fund as noted on my return. Might I suggest you send the above mentioned to fund a 1.5-inch screw. See the attached article where HUD paid $22.00 for a 1.5-inch Phillips-Head Screw. It has been a pleasure to pay my tax bill this year, and I look forward to paying it again next year.

We are again in Luke, this time it’s the first part of the 15th chapter that involves the Master, tax collectors, scribes and Pharisees plus an undisclosed number of sinners. Just as Jesus was invited to a banquet, as we described two lessons back, He was again being watched by Pharisees who just couldn’t come to grips with the fact that Messiah was among them, and they were trying to catch Him in an activity to prove He wasn’t who He said He was.

In this scene disclosed in verses one through 10 we read, “tax collectors and sinners drew near to Him to hear what He had to say. The Scribes and Pharisees who were also there, murmured saying, He receives even the sinners and eats with them.” At this stage of the mission to Jerusalem, the Master and disciples were stopping along the way, and the crowds coming out to hear this teaching were growing. Word obviously spread ahead of their stops, and the same word reached scribes and Pharisees. As rumor goes, there’s no telling what had been said, yet these Temple leaders got wind that these road-side lectures had something to do with God, and that meant somebody was stepping into their territory.

When the public came together for these impromptu lessons, nearly every segment of society was represented. To the followers of the Law, the crowd was a mixture of the clean and unclean, and that wasn’t at all good in their opinion.

Christian teaching often mentions people listed in this story, yet we tend to lump them together, as did the Pharisees, as “bad people” without understanding these, as are all people, loved by God. Among the group were the hated tax collectors. Since these “scum” as we would call them today, were mixed with the sinners, the whole thing must be horrible, as the Pharisee would see it. Without question, their tax-collecting role in society was a very bad deal, yet we rarely examine the particulars of this profession.

The first of the “bad” in the list of Luke 15 is tax collectors. The two most notorious people in this profession who became famous from biblical renown were Matthew, yes, the disciple who held that position in Capernaum, where he was recruited by Yeshua to be a disciple. The other is Chief Tax Collector, Zacchaeus, whose story appears in Luke 19. It is interesting that the Hebrew for Zaccheaus means “pure and righteous one.” We don’t think of this tree-climbing person as a nice guy, but Jesus stopped and called him out of his perch to go eat with him. That was another incident that raised the ire of the Pharisees.

The most fascinating fact about Matthew being a tax collector is that he held that position in Capernaum, the City where Jesus lived, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. If you did not read or hear my presentation about this City, look up “Oh Little Town of…” on and read the history of this remarkable place, where the Roman Centurion was so impressed with the community that he personally paid for a new synagogue for the townspeople. The same Centurion is the one who asked the Master to heal his servant who was ill, saying that he knew Messiah could do this even from a distance. So if the occupying military force loved the community like he did, a tax collector would also have experienced the remarkable attitude of the community. And, had Matthew lived up to the reputation of tax collectors of the time, he would have been at odds with citizens of Capernaum and not likely selected to be a disciple. The fact that Messiah chose Matthew who was a career tax collector, says a lot about Matthew as a person, Capernaum as a City and Jesus as Messiah.

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