Gospel of Matthew 9:9-13 – Matthew’s Calling
When Jesus calls Matthew to be His disciple in this passage (Matthew 9:9-13), they are in Capernaum which is a city that Jesus lived in after He left Nazareth (Matt 4:13). Matthew, also called Levi in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27, was a Tax Collector. Tax Collectors were considered disreputable people because the Roman Empire allowed them to increase the taxes assessed and take the excess as their own profit. Matthew was not only a Tax Collector (Publican), there is also some evidence that Matthew may have been a Jew as well, so the Pharisees would have considered him a sinner against Jewish law because of his profession.
In this Gospel reading, Jesus sat down and ate with the sinners and Tax Collectors. The fact that Jesus sat down and ate with disreputable people according to the Jewish law, made many Israelites doubt that He was truly the Savior. Jesus defended His association with sinners by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Here, Jesus uses a quote from Hosea 6:6 by saying, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’….”. The quote from Hosea used by Jesus is in reference to the time when God is threatening judgement against His people for the sacrifices they offer while continuing to be disobedient to His law rather than showing faith and devotion to Him. Jesus then immediately follows this recollection from the Old Testament with the phrase “…I came not to call the righteous, but sinners…”. Many biblical scholars believe the latter phrase refers to the non-believing Israelites as “..the righteous” who profess following strictly the Jewish religion (therefore considering themselves righteous), yet, in fact, who do not ultimately show faith and devotion to God.
Belief and confession of faith were Old Testament themes that the Israelites would have studied and been aware of during Jesus’ Ministry on earth. Because of this, on St. Matthew’s feast day, the Orthodox Christian Church precedes the reading of the Gospel in Matthew (9:9-13) with the Epistle to the Romans written by St. Paul, Romans 10:11-21; 11:1-2. In this Epistle, Paul drives the point home that God gave the Jewish people many opportunities to learn and accept that Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies in the Old Testament and that Jesus was in fact the Messiah – and yet, many Israelites still rejected Him.
Since the ancient prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:16) and Joel (Joel 2:32) also said that the message of Salvation was to be universally given to all people, the message of Salvation was given and heard by all people – Jews and Gentiles, sinners and righteous alike – not only from Jesus’ own lips during His time on earth, but also from His Apostles lips after Jesus’ Resurrection; and, this missionary work continues from generation to generation to the present day.
References: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vols Ia, VI, InterVarsity Press; The Gospel of Matthew by Lawrence Farley, Conciliar Press; The New Testament, Matthew and the Canon, by Paul Tarazi, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; NKJV.