As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. God and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
The call of Matthew is another one of my favorite stories. The way Jesus treats Matthew is so meaningful. You have to understand that as a tax collector Matthew was an outcast as a direct result of his own actions. He likely cheated the poor to get rich himself, picked on the Jews, and was generally a bad guy. The Jews hated the tax collectors, and for good reason.
But remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Jesus forgave and befriended Matthew, and it changed his life! Imagine if we treated non-believers that way, how many lives could be changed! Jesus set a great example for us about how to treat others.
I also love what He said to the Pharisees. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” What a deep truth! Jesus came to help the sinners! What does that mean for us? It means we can’t treat those we perceive as sinners like second class citizens. They need Jesus, so like Jesus did, we need to treat those people with forgiveness, friendship, and love. Besides, we’re sinners too!
That’s one of the great mysteries of the modern church to me. We shun gay people, pregnant teens, murderers, drugs addicts, AIDS patients, homeless people, as if we are somehow better than them. But we are all sinners too. Jesus loves sinners and non-believers just as much as He loves anyone else, and He calls on us to love them too. Spending time with them, not shunning them, is the best we we can show them what Christ’s love is all about, and maybe win one or two of them over. Besides, it’s just the right thing to do.