Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany - Sunday, February 6, 2022

Text: Matthew 9:9-13

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Here’s an idea for a conversation starter. It might be an interesting chat on the way home today, or it could work anytime, in a classroom or a workshop or wherever you might be. It goes like this. Finish the following statement with the first clear word that pops into your head.

Every person that I meet is a potential ____________ (and you get to fill in that blank). Why might that be a good conversation starter? Because there are an infinite number of answers, but your answer says a lot about you and what you’re all about, how you think and therefore how you are most likely to look at people and interact with them.

Let’s consider some possibilities. An extremely outgoing person might say that every person that I meet is a potential friend. Maybe you are one of those people, or you know someone like that—we might call them extroverts—who crave interaction and enjoy making new connections by getting to know people. On the other hand, some people are more introverted or shy, maybe even anxious at the thought of having to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and so they might say that every person that I meet is a potential threat. Someone who is especially focused on a particular goal in life might see everyone else as a potential obstacle. A salesman might see everyone as a potential customer. And someone who is especially sensitive or worried about getting sick might see everyone as a potential disease.

So, who has the best answer? It’s hard to say, right, because there is a chance that any one of those could be true. The point of thinking this through, however, is that how we view people will most definitely affect how we treat them. As we look at a short portion of God’s Word today, let’s take special notice of how Jesus views people, and then watch how he treats them; we’ll see what we can take away.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. When most Jewish people would have looked at Matthew, it wasn’t just about what he might potentially be. They had enough information to call him a traitor and a crook. Why? Well, simply because he was a tax collector. He was a Jew who worked for the Romans and made a good living by taking advantage of his fellow Jews in the process. If any of them complained or refused to pay, all Matthew had to do was make one call to a group of Roman soldiers, and they would do the dirty work of collecting for him.

On the other hand, how did Jesus look at Matthew? He approached this guilty and despised man, and he saw a soul in need. He saw a human being who was struggling to silence his conscience, who made plenty of money but had no true satisfaction, and instead of shunning Matthew like everyone else would have, he saw a potential disciple, someone who was worth his time and attention. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

How amazing is it that Jesus didn’t just look at Matthew that way…this is how he looks at you, too. Jesus knows everything about you, including all the bad. He knows about the time you’ve wasted, the poor choices you’ve made, the shameful lies you’ve told yourself and others, the worst parts of your past that are painful reminders of your unworthiness. He knows the twisted desires and the hateful thoughts that maybe you’ve been able to hide from the people around you. He knows your jealousy, your greed, your lust and your pride. And he hates all that, but he still loves you—so much that he died for you. And now Jesus invites you to keep following him, keep finding forgiveness in him, keep learning from him, and keep loving like him. That brings us to the next part.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The verses come with no break, but we can be certain that there was some passage of time in between. Luke’s parallel account includes this line that sets the stage for what we read here: “Levi [another name for Matthew] held a great banquet for Jesus at his house…” Most likely, he made preparations, sent out invitations, and then opened his home to other people who needed to know Jesus. And who showed up? ”many tax collectors and sinners,” we’re told. It was a dinner party that most people might have avoided, but Jesus doesn’t shy away. He doesn’t leave when they show up or act like he is better than them, even if he most certainly is. Jesus gives his time, and his attention, and his forgiveness to sinners who need him—in other words, people much like us.

Of course, the Pharisees didn’t see things the same way. They cared too much about their own image to be seen dining with such a low caliber of people. They’d rather keep their distance and pat each other on the back and look down on everyone else. They’d rather think about how much better they were than these sinners, even if they most certainly were no better at all. They put their own faults and failures out of mind, and they acted like these people were a disease that they didn’t want to catch.

And before we all pile on these Pharisees and cheer, “Get ‘em, Jesus,” we ought to realize that when Jesus confronts them, he is also talking to the prideful part of each one of us. If ever we have looked at someone, considered a conversation with them, and then passed on the opportunity because they might not be the right kind of person to invite to our church or school, then we have failed to represent the heart of our Savior. If our sinful pride has ever showed itself in our actions, then we haven’t been such faithful followers.

Let’s listen to Jesus’ words again, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” What a great illustration, isn’t it? Imagine a doctor who was only willing to spend time with healthy people… He or she could have a tremendous ego and claim credit for being the best doctor around, but anyone paying attention would know better. In the same way, Jesus knows he wouldn’t be a very good Savior if he only spent time with people who didn’t need to be saved. The truth is, then Jesus wouldn’t have anyone at all to hang out with if he wasn’t willing to be with sinners.

Jesus hates pride. But he loves the Pharisees enough to expose their pride and by teaching them, he is inviting them, too, to know him, find forgiveness in him, learn from him and love like him. Once again, it’s an invitation to us, too, because sometimes we’re the tax collectors and sometimes we’re the pharisees. But whenever we gather in his name, Jesus promises to spend time with us. In just a little bit it will be a room full of sinners dining with Jesus, as he comes to us in body and blood to feed us, to forgive us, and strengthen us to follow him throughout our lives. How will we do that?

This weekend’s focus in the “God-lived life” series is called “a life of hospitality.” That might mean that we open up our homes to strangers and sinners and host a banquet or two, but it doesn’t have to. Maybe it is just one more reminder to follow Jesus, not just in how we look, but in how we look at others. It only works if we look at ourselves first in honesty and humility and remember that we are the sick who are only made healthy through Jesus. We came into the world dead in sin until we were given new life through water and the spirit. We were spiritually starving until Jesus fed us with his banquet of forgiveness, and even though our bodies are dying, our souls are eternally alive because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and he is even now preparing a place in his Father’s house to host us for all eternity.

What a joy it can be for us, that Jesus uses us to pass out invitations to the heavenly banquet that awaits, and that one will be filled with forgiven tax collectors and sinners, forgiven Pharisees, side by side with our Savior. Let’s remain intentional about the blessed work Jesus has given us to do as we follow him, rejoicing in our forgiveness and reaching out to all who will rejoice with us. Until then, everyone we meet is a potential disciple, a prospect, a sinner who needs Jesus. May God keep our mission ever before us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.