Note: This series is written as a first-person narrative in order to present Jesus in the context he walked with the unknown disciple that narrates presenting my thoughts and sparking more thoughts with his questions. Enjoy.
While walking down the streets of Capernaum listening to Jesus teach, I sense one of the disciples tense up. Looking to see who it was, I discovered it was Simon the Zealot. He was staring at a booth not that far off.
“Traitor,” his voice filled with anger.
I looked, it was a tax collector. He appeared to be a fellow Jew which means he was working with the Roman Empire. They would even pat people down to see if they were withholding.
“That’s Matthew,” Peter told us. I thought I may have seen him come hear Jesus teach. I wondered what Jesus thought.
Jesus stopped us in front of the booth. Was this going to be a lesson on contrasts? Some rabbis compare good law-keeping Pharisees against tax collectors in moral teaching.
“What,” we collectively whispered.
Then without hesitation, Matthew got up, left his job and joined us. While they talked, I wondered why Jesus had asked a tax collector to follow him. I barely heard Matthew invite us to eat at his home the next night.
When the following day arrived, we walked in to find many tax collectors and sinners already there, eating. In our culture, to eat with people was to establish a covenant of friendship. The Psalms of David warned against eating with sinners lest they corrupt you.
Pharisees standing at the door, refusing to come in, asked us, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus overheard them and answered with a remez or hint–using a part of a scripture passage, assuming we would know the rest of it to see the deeper meaning.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I had heard ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ before. It was from one of the prophets…Hosea! It’s “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
It was directed at Israel during the last days of the northern kingdom. They were going through the motions without acknowledging God.
“What did it mean now?” I said quietly.
Another disciple answered, “God wants us, not just rituals, a right attitude with compassion for others.”
Even lowlifes apparently, I thought.