Who is looked down on in today’s society? I’m not accusing anyone here of judging others (although we should each inspect our hearts on a regular basis, and remember God’s amazing creation in each person), but do you know of situations where the following groups are treated as less valuable than others?
- The young? The old? Millennials?
- Black? White? Asian?
- Rich? Poor?
- Those who are violent and do bad things? (Maybe those who promote and teach evil behavior?)
- Politicians (of either or any party)?
- Whoever roots for your favorite sports team’s rival?
Maybe you can relate to some of these groups better than others. Throughout history, though, it seems that there’s one category that remains consistently on this list: people who collect taxes. This was true in the first century where Jesus lived and taught, and even today, those who collect taxes are not usually our favorite people to hear from. In fact, I can attest to this: My wife and I have been audited before (by mail), and it’s fairly intimidating.
For various reasons, I fear that some people look upon agents of taxation agencies (local, state, and/or federal) as sell-outs to an oppressive government. I don’t sanction that attitude, but for those that do feel this way, that is exactly how first-century Jewish people felt about those who collected taxes. As I understand it, groups would purchase taxation contracts from the Roman Empire, in return for the right to collect money from conquered nations within the empire. (Still, Jesus paid tax, so if we want to live like Him, He’s already set the example for us.)
In that context, consider what Jesus did when calling one of His disciples, as recorded here in the book of Matthew:
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.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.
Matthew 9:9-10 NIV
Despite false impressions that some people have, Jesus calls all kinds of people. If you like people who collect taxes, go back up and read the list at the top of this article again, and think about others who don’t have great standing in society. Jesus calls them, too.
If you are a tax collector, or if you feel like you’re not religious, popular, or good enough to get to know Jesus Christ, this example blows that idea out of the water. Jesus clearly doesn’t save His invitations for society’s “cream of the crop”. Sure, wealthy, famous, and influential people are invited to follow Jesus, but so are the rest of us, no matter where we’ve come from or where we are. Can you imagine what Matthew was thinking about as he included this account in his record of Jesus’ ministry (i.e., as Matthew wrote the Gospel according to Matthew)? Before Jesus called him, don’t you think that he felt like the last person to be invited by a famous rabbi?
Not only did Jesus call some unpopular people to follow Him (for instance, I suspect that Simon the Zealot had plenty of enemies, and Peter had a big mouth), but He ate and spent time with them. Matthew may not have been popular (especially with the religious elite of that region and era), but he could still throw a party!
The guest list at this party was pretty rough, by cultural standards (both then, and today). And, that’s probably to be expected. For one thing, “tax collectors and sinners” were likely Matthew’s friends, since “respectable” people wouldn’t be his friends. For another thing, even if Matthew invited people like the Pharisees, they were likely to decline because of the host’s occupation, not to mention the other guests. [See first reference, below.]
This means that if you don’t feel popular, important, or well-liked, Jesus still calls to you. I hope that you’ll take some time to listen to that invitation. To learn more about Jesus, and His good news for all of us, start reading the Bible at the passage above, and then just keep on reading.
For those who have accepted Jesus’ call, this also means that no one should be beyond our sharing of the gospel with them. When the Holy Spirit guides us to share the gospel with specific people, we have no right to look at anyone (including those in the “unliked” groups mentioned previously) and decide that they aren’t good enough to hear the gospel from us. After all, what if someone else had thought us to be unworthy of the good news?
In addition, we should never feel like outsiders in the body of Christ. If someone does feel this way, it’s possible that other imperfect followers of Jesus (possibly including us – and almost certainly me, sometimes) have done a poor job of making them feel welcome. So, let’s do our very best to ensure that we show God’s love not only to everyone who needs to hear that good news for the first time, but also to all who have become a part of God’s family (even to some of us who are a little weird…or maybe that’s all of us!).
Who would you be willing to invite to a meal, outside of your circle of family and friends? A person of another faith from your community? A homeless person? A convicted criminal? A politician? An IRS agent?
Who will you welcome into fellowship this week?
From Sunday School lesson prepared for April 11, 2021
- Christian Standard, Volume CLVI, Number 4, pages 85-86. © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Matthew, by Larry Chouinard. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997, p.167-174.