Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Matthew's Party and why Jesus Hangs with Sinners , Training of the Twelve Chapter 3 (part 2)

When Matthew threw a party to honor Jesus it was not a small affair. It was as extravagant as the time Mary poured her precious perfume on the feet of Jesus. People to whom much grace is shown demonstrate their grateful love in deeds of magnificence and devotion. The opponents of Jesus criticized such events as displays of opulent indulgence, but their greatest complaints were about the people who came to the party.

Of course Matthew invited the friends that he had because he wanted to introduce them to Jesus. It is a natural characteristic of a young disciple that he would want others to take the same step of repentance that he had so recently taken. And who knows? It could be that on this festive occasion, impressions were made that eventually led some of those present to the way of righteousness.

Looked at from the inside, Matthew’s feast was joyous, innocent and edifying. But from the outside, it was nothing short of scandalous. The Pharisees looked at the partygoers, judged their character, and drew the most sinister conclusions.

“Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” they asked the disciples of Jesus. This constant criticism of Jesus had by this time become a standing feature of His ministry. Interestingly, He never seemed to be bothered by it. Instead He calmly went on with His work. When He was questioned, He was always ready with a conclusive response. His most striking answers come when He vindicates Himself for mixing with the tax collectors and sinners. This happens three times. The first is here at Matthews feast; the second in the house of Simon the Pharisee; and the third was a general charge that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

His explanations for loving the unloved are full grace and truth with a slight touch of satire directed at the sanctimonious faultfinders. His first argument is a professional one: “I hang out with sinners because they need healing and I am a physician. Where else should a physician be besides among His patients?" His second argument could be described as a political one: “It’s good policy to be a friend of sinners who have a lot to be forgiven. When they are restored, their love will be greater!” His third argument is a practical one: “I hang out with sinners because this is the way to find them and relate to them. In the same way that a shepherd goes out to find the lost sheep, so I go to where the lost people are so that I can bring them to a place of healing and wholeness and restoration”. His final argument was judicial.  Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repent”.  This hints that he would leave the self-righteous alone and call to repentance and to the joys of the kingdom those who were not too self-satisfied to desire the benefits offered, and to whom the gospel feast would be a real party.

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