2nd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 5) LSB #’s 901, 618:1-4, 673
Text – Matthew 9:10-11
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors & sinners came & were reclining with Jesus & His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors & sinners?”
EATING WITH THE IRS
At the church where I did my vicarage one of the young men who used to serve as an usher showed up for church one morning with his hair bleached blonde but with large black polka dots dyed into it. It was quite a sight & got your attention, as I’m sure it was meant to. Beyond that I thought nothing of it until the next Elder’s meeting.
It was brought up that someone complained about the young man’s hairstyle. I was surprised by that & said so. I figured if a 16 year old shows up to usher, when his parents do not express interest in church, then you thank God & encourage the guy.
Apparently the person who complained was someone with influence, because an Elder was asked to speak to the usher about his hair color. You can guess what happened. That 16-year-old tax collector & sinner never came back. In your life, you too have heard comments from Pharisees, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors & sinners?”
What is Jesus thinking? Those kind of people are the scum of the earth & they’re unclean! They foul everything they touch. No self-respecting Rabbi would be seen in public with them let alone eat with them. That’s where the Pharisees were at, unbridled disgust & disrespect for fellow creatures which our loving Father had created.
Tax collectors & sinners were not allowed to enter the Synagogue. According to some members in our churches neither should people who have blond & polka dotted hair. In the congregation where I grew up all the men wore a suit jacket & tie to every church service. There’s something to be said for treating the house of God with reverence & with honor, yet teaching a balanced & proper distinction between the two extremes is key. Telling a 16 year old with funny hair that he can no longer usher because of it is a tragedy. Jesus made it clear to the Pharisees that He desires mercy, & He purposely came to earth in order to eat with the sinners. Times had changed. The Pharisees didn’t get it.
While living in North Dakota I found only one member there who regularly followed the NFL. He was an elderly & divorced gentleman so Don would invite me over for company to watch football with him. As you all know, commercials appear on television very frequently. Naturally, they became a topic of discussion.
Don mentioned one day that he just didn’t get the point of many of the commercials. I believe the Blue Man Group had just done one for the Pentium Four computer chip, & if you’ve ever seen the Blue Man Group perform, they’re certainly out there. The guys are painted blue from head to toe & they do things like playing music with plastic piping.
What was especially interesting is that prior to that Sunday’s game I’d read that times have really changed with respect to commercials. They are now targeted at more specific audiences. They don’t care if older people can’t understand today’s commercials, because they’re never going to buy the product anyway. The Pentium Four is a perfect example.
Don had no use for a computer so he didn’t need to understand the point of the commercial. Concerning Jesus’ eating with tax collectors & sinners, the Pharisees didn’t get the point, but for the most part few of them were going to buy the product anyway. They enjoyed the status quo & saw no need to change. There was nothing in it for them.
Why do we need to eat with tax collectors & sinners? Why do we need to have ushers with funny hair? What does a Pentium Four chip do for me? Are you recognizing the self-centered outlook so common to each of us? It’s like saying to Jesus, “What have you done for me lately, instead of wasting your time eating with those boys from the hood? If you’re going to be a leader you should be hanging out with a respectable crowd.” Are you missing the point of why churches try reaching out to people in our society who may not speak like you do, dye their hair like you do, or pierce their tongue like you don’t?
The gospel lesson ends, “…I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” The 2nd person of the Holy Trinity was a radical preacher. It’s the people unlike us who need something. They need Jesus Christ as their Savior. As people who already today have eternal life it is your privilege to share the good news with those who do not already have it.
Our communities are filled with the walking dead, tax collectors & sinners, people who have no relationship with the Great Physician, the healer of their soul. They are the walking dead because although they appear to be alive, without Christ living in them, they are already & have always been spiritually, therefore eternally, dead.
The Righteous or the Sinners, which of those categories do you fall into? And let me warn you that are a loaded question if you’ve ever heard one. PAUSE
Why do things have to change? Why does Jesus come along & mess with our comfortable routine? Why can’t He just leave things the way they’ve always been? In case you haven’t noticed, life on earth is not exactly paradise. You should be praying that God’s Spirit does bring change into this world, & into your life.
For Jesus, the point is not whether eating with tax collectors is appropriate. The point is that eating with them is a necessity. It’s what God the Father has commanded us to do, & Christ had no reason to be ashamed of His presence in the house of a sinner.
We have no reason to be ashamed of the presence, in God’s house, of one who dyes black polka dots into his bleached blonde hair. People who are looking for attention need
the attention of their Savior just as much as you & I. The main emphasis in the Gospel of Matthew is on the undeserved love that has appeared to us in Christ Jesus. But that undeserved love was offensive to the Pharisee. If Jesus loved the sinners, just as much as He loved the righteous, then what good does it do to work so hard to appear respectable?
The Pharisees felt threatened by the changes Jesus was bringing. If you feel threatened by change keep in mind that the changes Jesus brings are intended to remove not God’s will from our lives, but our sin. It’s human nature to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, so we seldom feel the need to change ourselves, or our routine.
We’d rather blame others, like the tax collectors, the sinners & the politicians, & expect them to change. So Jesus says to the Pharisees & to us, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9 NIV) If tradition gets in the way of God’s will, than we are sinning, plain & simple.
Those traditions can be hairstyles, the way we dress, the way we worship & many other things. So, back to the loaded question. Are you one of the Righteous, or one of the Sinners?
It appears that, as Jesus uses these words in the Gospel reading, the Righteous are those who think they have no sin, thereby deceiving themselves. The Sinners appear to be those who feel their sin & the curse that follows it. The Righteous are those offended by Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, because His offer suggests that they need forgiveness.
The Righteous are offended by sinners who come into their church, daring to act as if Jesus is their friend. Those Righteous measure themselves by the weaknesses of their fellow men & become proud.
The Sinners are those who measure themselves against Christ. By that standard they become very aware of how far they fall short. Sinners turn to God with a burdened conscience, rather than in pride. They think not of the weaknesses of others at all. The Sinner stands utterly alone before the holy God. Hosea wrote of God in the OT reading for today: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt & seek my face, & in their distress earnestly seek me.” (5:15 ESV) Then, Hosea wrote how people of faith responded:
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, & He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the 3rd day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” (6:1-2 ESV)
The Pharisees had no use for the tax collectors & sinners, but Jesus did. He is our Savior & friend. We trust in His mercy & in His sacrifice. God then declares us righteous on account of what His Son has done on the cross of Good Friday. With that definition of the word righteous we see how God’s children are both Righteous & Sinner at the same time.
We are sinner on account of our actions, but we are righteous on account of God’s action & declaration. Faith in Christ then, is the attitude & action of a beggar who simply receives the love of God. That is how Matthew writes of the tax collectors & sinners in the Gospel reading this morning. Jesus welcomes them & eats with them.
Jesus now waits for the final heavenly banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb that has no end. It is prominent in the 19th chapter of Revelation. When our bodies are raised glorious on that final day, all of God’s children will be there, tax collectors & sinners. John writes:
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters & like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice & exult & give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come…’ And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” (19:6-7, 9a ESV) Amen.
I come, O Savior, to Thy table, for weak & weary is my soul; Thou, Bread of Life, alone art able to satisfy & make me whole: Lord, may Thy body & Thy blood, be for my soul the highest good! Amen. LSB 618:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet