Reflection on Matthew 9: 9-13
“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ He heard this and said, ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.’”
Tax collectors were especially despised during Jesus’ time. Not only did they collect taxes for the Roman Empire, an exceedingly brutal regime that enriched itself on the backs of conquered peoples, but tax collectors also enriched themselves by taking their share above and beyond the Roman taxes, further driving the Jewish people into poverty. Very clearly, tax collectors were outsiders in the Jewish culture of the time.
As the son (and grandson and great-grandson) of an alcoholic, I have frequently experienced feeling like an outsider, as someone who does not fit in. I can empathize with Matthew, who I’m sure was stung by the Pharisees’ criticism of Jesus for inviting him. Perhaps you have also felt like an outsider for any one of a variety of reasons. How reassuring it is for us to take comfort in Jesus’ invitation to each of us!
Although I am comforted by Jesus’ invitation, I am also convicted by the very same invitation. Am I following Jesus’ lead in inviting the outsider? Who am I marginalizing as an outsider, and what am I doing to include the poorest and most vulnerable among us? Many of us do not encounter the marginalized in our everyday lives. Do we allow ourselves to comfortably remain in our bubbles, or do we leave our emotionally safe zones to help others outside those bubbles?
With the coming fall season and the year-end holidays, we have some great opportunities to step out of our comfort zones to help others. In less than two weeks, we will begin collecting homeless kits, followed by the Movement for a Better World’s Thanksgiving and Christmas assistance to needy families. What else can we do to welcome the stranger, the outsider, and the “tax collector”?
Peace to you, your family and your loved ones as we begin the fall season.