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The reading is from Gospel of Matthew 9:9-13.

The Calling of St. Matthew by Bernado Strozzi, 1620

The Call of Matthew – Matthew 9:9-13

As Jesus passed on from there, 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.

The above episode appears  in Mark 2:13-17 and in Luke 5:27-32.

The Call of Levi – Mark 2:13-17

Once again he went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, 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 sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him.

Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus heard this and said to them [that], “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.

The Call of Levi – Luke 5:27-32

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.

He said to him, “Follow me.”

And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them.

The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.

Mark and Luke name this tax collector Levi. But no such name appears in the four lists of the twelve who were the closest companions of Jesus,

  • The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:2–4)
  • [he appointed the twelve:] Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus; Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him. (Mark 3:16–19)
  • Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:14–16)
  • When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. (Acts 1:13)

Perusing the above four lists we see that in the Acts of the Apostles because of the defection of Judas Iscariot the writer names only eleven. All four list a Matthew, designated in Matthew as “the tax collector.”

The evangelist may have changed the name “Levi” of his source to Matthew so that this person, whose call is given special notice, like that of the first four disciples (Matthew 4:18–22), might be included among the twelve. Another reason for the change may be that the disciple Matthew was the source of traditions peculiar to the church for which the evangelist was writing.

Tax Collectors

  • For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:46)

Jews engaged in the collection of indirect taxes such as tolls and customs were called Tax Collectors. They paid a fixed sum to the government for the right to collect customs duties within their districts. Since whatever they could collect above this amount constituted their profit, the abuse of extortion was widespread among them. They were very much in league with Roman rulers. Hence, Jewish customs officials were regarded as sinners

  • Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

So, among the Jews, the Tax Collectors were considered outcasts of society, scum of the earth and disgraced along with their families. So, the Jews believed that table association with such persons would cause ritual impurity.

“His” house

In the verse

  • While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples (Matthew 9:10)

Matthew is not clear whether the word “his” refers to Jesus or Matthew; but Luke clearly calls it Levi’s house.

  • Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. (Luke 5:29)

The term “Teacher”

  • A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (Matthew 8:19)

For Matthew, the designation “Teacher” of Jesus is true, for he has Jesus using it of himself.

  • No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household! (Matthew 10:24-25)
  • As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. (Matthew 23:8)
  • He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”’” (Matthew 26:18)

But, when it is used of him by others they are either his opponents

  • The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)
  • Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” (Matthew 12:38)
  • When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matthew 17:24)
  • They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. (Matthew 22:16)
  • “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matthew 24, 36)

or, as here by well-disposed persons who cannot see more deeply.

Thus it reveals an inadequate recognition of who Jesus was by his contemporaries.

Physician

  • He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. (Matthew 9:12)
  • Jesus heard this and said to them [that], “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

This maxim of Jesus “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” with its implied irony was uttered to silence his adversaries who objected that he ate with tax collectors and sinners. Because the scribes and Pharisees were self-righteous, they were not capable of responding to Jesus’ call to repentance and faith in the gospel.

Matthew adds the prophetic statement of Hosea

  • For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

to the Marcan account

  • Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

meaning if mercy is superior to the temple sacrifices, how much more to the laws of ritual impurity.

Matthew repeats Hosea in the following verse too.

  • If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. (Matthew 12:7)

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