Read Matthew 9
Not everyone who followed Jesus was a fisherman. Jesus came upon a certain tax collector named Levi or Matthew. Nobody liked tax collectors. There was no IRS schedule that determined how much tax you paid. There were no tax brackets. There were no tax deductions.
There was the tax collector. He paid an amount agreed upon with those in power and then he taxed people with whatever he thought was appropriate. I do not use the word fair.
The tax collector assessed and collected the tax based upon his perception of what was fair, mostly fair to him. It could be a lucrative business, if you had the gumption to be hated by just about everyone except for your fellow tax collectors.
You had to have some business smarts and some negotiation skills and even some poker skills. You might have to bluff every now and then. The Romans would not want a tax collector who had to ask the governor to send soldiers because people wouldn’t cough up the tax, but you had to have the nerves to make people feel like you would do just that.
If you were a people person, this probably was not a good line of work for you.
Jesus came to Matthew and said, “Follow me.” We get no additional details. There is no witty saying to put on tee shirts. Follow me and you can collect taxes in heaven.
It was just follow me. Matthew got up and followed Jesus. This was a man who surely estimated cost and profit with every transaction; yet, he simply got up and followed Jesus.
The next thing we read is that Jesus is at Matthew’s house eating with other tax collectors and a group that gets lumped together called sinners.
This surely got under the skin of the Pharisees. They asked the disciples why their teacher ate with such people. What’s up with that?
Jesus heard this—maybe overheard this or heard it from his disciples, but this was not Jesus knowing what they were thinking. Thoughts became words this time. The Pharisees had some questions based in their own self-righteousness.
The answer is one we know well. “It’s not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick.” Jesus came to call sinners not the righteous.
He challenged the religious hypocrites once again with words they should have known.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Jesus had begun a course of chastising the Pharisees and other religious leaders that would reach its peak in chapter 23. The Pharisees could not see that Jesus was the one sent to save the world not condemn it. They only knew condemnation and they were good at condemning others.
They knew rules and penalties, and even added their own rules, thinking God’s insufficient on their own.
Jesus offered them some reconciliation here. He charged them to learn what this meant. Had they followed the counsel proffered, they might have acquired eyes to see and ears to hear what the one before them was doing.
They might have had a glimpse of the heart of God. Those who memorized the words but missed the love and compassion and holiness of God, would neither see nor hear the one whom God sent, nor would they obey what he told them to do.
“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”
We will take a single verse from John’s gospel to add context here.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Jesus came to save the world, not to socialize with the religious hypocrites. He didn’t kick them to the curb, but challenged them to work on their own blindness.
God desires mercy not sacrifice. We know his mercy in his sacrifice for us. God wants us to know him, and acknowledge him, and worship him so much more than the sacrifices prescribed in the law he gave to Moses.
Praise the Lord that we have eyes to see God’s mercy in our Savior. Let us worship God in spirit and in truth and never just go through the motions.