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Grant Osborne: The first discipleship segment centered on the radical demands of Jesus (8:18–22). This one centers on the reality and meaning of that new kingdom presence.  It means a new social paradigm, as Jesus has come not for the elite or the superficially pious but for the true sinners, the downtrodden, and the despised (9:9–13). The forgiveness of sins in the previous pericope (9:1–8) now leads to Jesus’ ministry to sinners. Here Jesus goes beyond just reaching out to these despised people. He invites one of them to join his apostolic band!

One of the major themes of Jesus’ ministry is here introduced—his scandalous (to the leaders) preoccupation with reaching out to sinners. This leads to a major confrontation with the leaders, leading to the key pronouncement of Jesus regarding a major mission principle—namely, that the ministry of the church is not so much to those who believe they are right with God but to those who know they are sinners.

R. T. France: Matthew the tax-collector represents a wider group of “undesirables” who are also interested in Jesus and his message and who join him and his disciples at a meal in Matthew’s house. Their interest, and Jesus’ acceptance of them, even to the extent of sharing table-fellowship, give rise to some pungent comments of Jesus in response to Pharisaic criticism (vv. 11–13), which sharply characterize the sort of people Jesus is looking for as his followers. Discipleship is not for the comfortable and respectable, but for those whom conventional society would rather keep at arm’s length. The Pharisees can see only their failures, but Jesus sees their need, and the fact that they acknowledge it themselves gives him the opportunity to fulfill his calling to “save his people from their sins.” (1:21)

Leon Morris: Matthew inserts a little section on discipleship, starting with his own call to be a disciple of Jesus. That leads to a meal that he apparently gave for Jesus and his disciples at which a question of the Pharisees leads to an important saying about Jesus’ calling of the disreputable. Discipleship means something very different from anything the Pharisees had imagined.

John MacArthur: The kingdom of God is for

  • the spiritually sick who want to be healed,
  • the spiritually corrupt who want to be cleansed,
  • the spiritually poor who want to be rich,
  • the spiritually hungry who want to be fed,
  • the spiritually dead who want to be made alive.

It is for ungodly outcasts who long to become God’s own beloved children.


A.  Authoritative Command to Follow Jesus

And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew,

sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’

D. A. Carson: The locale is probably the outskirts of Capernaum. Matthew was sitting “at the tax collector’s booth,” a customs and excise booth at the border between the territories of Philip and Herod Antipas. . . Having demonstrated his authority to forgive sins (vv.1–8), Jesus now called to himself a man whose occupation made him a pariah—a sinner and an associate of sinners (cf. 1Ti 1:15).

S. Lewis Johnson: When we look at men, we look at their position. We see their position, their influence, their personality. We see the way they look. We notice their age, we notice their sex, we notice various other things about people which are, generally speaking, outward things. When the Lord Jesus looks upon a person, he has faculties and capacities that you and I do not have, and he sees beneath the outward to the man. He saw a man named Matthew. He sees the real being within. Something we cannot see. And evidently, by the Holy Spirit’s direction, for he ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit, he sensed that this man was a man in whom God had been working, and his heart was ready for a call from him. So he understands it. He sees what is transpiring. He recognizes that the field is white to harvest before he gives his command.

Grant Osborne: In Mark 2:14 he is named “Levi son of Alphaeus,” and it is debated why he is named “Matthew” here, a name that in Hebrew means either “gift of Yahweh” (Mattatyâ) or “faithful” (if from ʿemet). It was common for people to have two or even three names (a Hebrew, Greek, or Latin name or even two Hebrew names, as here) as with Saul/Paul or Simon/Peter. That is undoubtedly the case with Levi/Matthew. Why Matthew uses this name is unknown; perhaps like Peter he later became known more by this name. . .

  • The Jewish people had an especially onerous situation because they had to pay in effect three taxes:
  • Jewish males over the age of twenty had to pay the annual half-shekel (one day’s wage) temple tax;
  • non-Roman citizens had to pay the tribute or “direct tax,” including the land tax (for those who owned property) and head tax (one denarius or day’s wage per year);
  • and everyone had to pay “indirect taxes,” such as sales tax, customs duty, tolls, etc.

Tax collectors like Matthew sat in booths at the gates of the city to collect tolls and customs duties on goods coming from Herod Philip’s territory into that of Herod Antipas. They were part of organizations to which Rome farmed out (to the highest bidder) the responsibility. For customs duties they did not pay Rome but the municipal government, yet still they could charge extra for “commissions” on the taxes, which became their pay.

Needless to say, dishonesty was rampant, and they were among the most despised workers in the ancient world. Matthew would have collected taxes under Herod Antipas either at the lake where ships brought trade goods (if they were collecting taxes from fishermen) or more likely along the Via Maris, the major trade route from the north that passed by Capernaum. The taxes would have been paid on trade goods as well as on fish caught by the commercial fishermen in the lake (two different groups of tax collectors).

Donald Hagner: Since Jesus’ mission is predicated upon mercy and not merit, no one is despicable enough by the standards of society to be outside his concern and invitation. . .

Everyone whom Jesus called to follow Him for discipleship in the Gospels responded positively to that call (including Judas Iscariot). This is an indication of irresistible grace. Jesus’ calling was efficacious: it was successful in obtaining the desired and intended result—effective. Likewise, all whom He calls to Himself for salvation will be saved (cf. John 15:16; Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:4-5).

William Barclay: The problem for the Roman government was how to devise a system whereby the taxes could be collected as efficiently and as cheaply as possible. They did so by auctioning the right to collect taxes in a certain area. The man who bought that right was responsible to the Roman government for an agreed sum; anything he could raise over and above that, he was allowed to keep as commission.

Bruce Hurt: Follow Me is not a suggestion and not even an “invitation” per se (invitations usually don’t come as commands!), but is actually  a command in the present imperative. Follow Me and keep on following Me as a way of life, with the implication of doing so for the rest of your life. Given that our fallen human flesh does not seek after God, one has to propose that in some way the Holy Spirit was actively working in Matthew’s heart to give him both the desire and the power to leave everything and follow Jesus.

B.  All-In Commitment to Follow Jesus

And he rose, and followed Him.

R. T. France: By working for an unpopular government sanctioned by Rome a telōnēs incurred the hatred and disdain of Jewish patriots, quite apart from any economic grievances resulting from their reputation for exacting more than was officially necessary. The conventional pairing “tax-collectors and sinners” (v. 10; cf. 11:19; Luke 15:1; 18:9–14) shows how society regarded them; cf. also 5:46; 18:17; 21:31 – 32.12 For Jesus to call such a man to follow him was a daring breach of etiquette, a calculated snub to conventional ideas of respectability, which ordinary people no less than Pharisees might be expected to baulk at. Fishermen may not have been high in the social scale, but at least they were not automatically morally and religiously suspect; Matthew was. Almost as remarkable as Jesus’ decision to call him is Matthew’s confident response; he does not seem to have felt uncomfortable at being included in a preacher’s entourage, though we are not told what the other disciples thought.

Leon Morris: He concentrates on the one central thing: Jesus called him with the words “Follow me”; the present imperative seems to indicate a continuing following, and there is no doubt that Matthew is describing a call to discipleship with all that that means. And Matthew obeyed: he got up and followed him. He says no more, but concentrates on that one decisive action. Luke brings out a little of its meaning by telling us that he left everything (Luke 5:28), and this is implied here. Matthew left a whole way of life to follow Jesus.  Tax collectors were usually wealthy men, for there was ample scope for profit in their business, so Matthew was probably making a great material sacrifice when he walked out of that office. And the action was final. They would surely never take him back again if he later decided he wanted to return. The fishermen might go back to their fishing, but the tax collector would not be able to return to the levying of customs duties. Anyway, his lucrative post would soon be filled. And if he tried to get another job, who would want to employ a former tax collector? Matthew’s response indicated a thoroughgoing trust in Jesus.


A.  (:10-11) Helping Sinners Requires Spending Time with Them

  1. (:10)  Farewell Dinner Hosted by Matthew brought Jesus into Contact with Sinners

And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.

William Hendriksen: This may be considered a kind of farewell banquet, arranged by Matthew and at his house, in honor of Jesus, bidding farewell to the old life, ringing in the new, and beckoning all to become spiritual followers of the Lord.

R. T. France: In the ancient world generally a shared meal was a clear sign of identification, and for a Jewish religious teacher to share a meal with such people was scandalous, let alone to do so in the “unclean” house of a tax-collector.

John Nolland: “Sinners” here should be understood primarily “sociologically as identifying those publicly known to be unsavoury types who lived beyond the edge of respectable society”.  But the presence of the term creates a link back to 9:2, 5, 6.

Daniel Doriani: Matthew brought his friends to Jesus. Everyone who knows and loves Jesus wants to bring their friends to him. No one can make any other person a Christian, but we can bring our friends to the Lord. Some people have the gift of evangelism. I once stood in a line with a friend in an empty business establishment. While we finished our simple transaction, this friend struck up a conversation with our clerk. Within five minutes, he had learned the essentials of her beliefs and her spiritual journey and had warmly invited her to our church. Few people have the tender boldness to do such things. But disciples find ways to bring their friends to Christ, his church, and his people.

  1. (:11)  Phony Pharisees Separated from Sinners by Hiding behind their Self-Righteousnesss

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples,

‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?’

Bob Deffinbaugh: God delights in those who seek relationship with Him, not in those who keep their distance and trust in their ritualistic law-keeping. Jesus delights in the presence of these sinners, whose joy is to be in His presence. He does not delight in those who choose to keep their distance, from sinners and the Savior. If these Pharisees would enjoy salvation, they must desire fellowship with the Savior, along with sinners, like themselves.

J. Ligon Duncan: Now the Pharisees are scandalized by the fact that the Lord Jesus is spending time with these tax collectors in the house of Matthew.  And they bring a charge against Jesus’ disciples.  They don’t go to Jesus, by the way, they go to the disciples.  Their aim is to cause the disciples to question Jesus’ judgment, and their logic would go something like this:  “Well, you disciples who esteem this man so highly.  You follow Him as your master, as your rabbi.  Why would He be violating the teaching of the first Psalm which says that the man is blessed who does not sit and stand with sinners?  Why, this man is not only standing with sinners,  He’s reclining with sinners at the dinner table.  What kind of man is this man that you’re following?  Why would you want to follow Him?”  Notice that these Pharisees don’t go to Christ to rebuke Him, they go to His more immature disciples hoping to cause those disciples to question Jesus’ character, to question His judgment, to question the rightness of His actions.  They hope to cause His disciples to doubt Him.  Perhaps they even hope that His disciples will fall away from Him and return to following in their teaching.

B.  (:12-13) Helping Sinners Must be the Goal of Gospel Evangelism

  1. (:12)  Our Mission Must be Focused on Those Who Admit their Need

But when He heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.’

R. T. France: Jesus’ first response is in the form of a proverb which uses physical illness as a metaphor for spiritual need. Plutarch quotes a similar saying of the Spartan king Pausanias when he was criticized for neglecting his own people: “It is not the custom of doctors to spend time among people who are healthy, but where people are ill.” The philosopher Diogenes is quoted as saying that as a doctor must go among the sick so a wise man must mix with fools. The point is obvious: any effective “healer” must expect to get his hands dirty.

William Barclay: Jesus’ defence was perfectly simple; he merely said that he went where the need was greatest. It would be a poor doctor who visited only houses where people enjoyed good health. The doctor’s place is where people are ill; it is a doctor’s glory and task to go to those who need healing. . .

This is a highly compressed saying. Jesus was saying: “I did not come to invite people who are so self-satisfied that they are convinced they do not need anyone’s help; I came to invite people who are very conscious of their sin and desperately aware of their need for a saviour.” He was saying: “It is only those who know how much they need me who can accept my invitation.”

  1. (:13)  Our Motivation Must be to Show Compassion to Sinners

But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’

for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’

Van Parunak: Like the other seventh century prophets (Isaiah, Micah, Amos), Hosea records the Lord’s displeasure with superficial ritual from insincere worshipers. The scribes were more concerned with ceremonial purity and avoiding defilement from an unclean person than they were with the covenant responsibilities of Jews to care for one another.

Grant Osborne: “Go [for this circumstantial participle, see on v. 9] and learn” was a rabbinic expression for Torah study, and in the context of the Pharisees who prided themselves on their knowledge of Scripture, it is a particularly powerful comeback. Since they call Jesus “teacher” (9:11), he will give them a “learning” assignment! Jesus takes his text from Hos 6:6 (quoted again in 12:7). In Hosea the apostate nation still followed the letter of the law (sacrifice) but had forgotten the heart of the law (mercy and love). Jesus is saying the Pharisees are recapitulating the same terrible error.

Thomas Constable: The last part of verse 13 defines Jesus’ ministry of preparing people for the messianic kingdom. Compassion, or mercy (NIV, Heb. hesed), was what characterized His mission. He came to call (Gr. kalesai) or invite people to repentance and salvation. Paul used this Greek word in the sense of efficacious calling, but that is not how Jesus used it. If someone does not see himself or herself as a sinner, that person will have no part in the messianic kingdom, because he or she will not respond to God’s call.

Craig Blomberg: Jesus is dealing the Pharisees a double rebuke by treating them first as learners rather than teachers and second as beginners who have yet to learn Scripture correctly. His logic is impeccable; the Pharisees have no reply. “I have come” hints at his prior existence in heaven, from which he was sent.

Leon Morris: The attitude of the Pharisees was such that these people were left far from God; they made no attempt to bring them near. Since they were ready to let these people die in their sins, their attitude lacked compassion and thus failed to comply with the standards taught by the prophet they professed to honor so highly. This failure meant that in fact the Pharisees belonged among the people Hosea condemned — a startling accusation for these so outwardly religious people! Luke tells us that Jesus came to call the sinful people “to repentance” (Luke 5:32), but Matthew lets this be understood. He leaves his emphasis on the fact that the people Jesus came to call were sinners. Later we find that he came to die for them (20:28). Jesus never said that the people in question were anything other than sinful. But that was not the point. The point was that he came to save sinners.

E. Michael Green: He charged the Pharisees with being immaculate in their pattern of sacrifices, but devoid of mercy. They despised people like Matthew, and God will not tolerate it. The divine mercy welcomes sinners like Matthew when they repent and follow Jesus. But the Pharisees choose to exclude themselves from the party. Here we see among the Pharisees a tendency, which will reappear more strongly as the story unfolds, to judge Jesus rather than revel in the mercy he offers, and to pride themselves on their own fancied goodness instead of recognizing his. The Pharisees could not tolerate the generosity of God to the paralysed man, to Matthew or to his crooked friends. Those who think they are healthy do not need a doctor: ironic words. There are, of course, no ‘healthy’ under God’s expert examination, but there are lots of people who think they are. Such people do not see their need of a doctor, although they harbour germs of the same fatal disease of sin which they condemn in its cruder forms in others. There is no room for the Pharisee spirit in the kingdom. The word means ‘separated ones’, proud that they stand out from the crowd and are good people. Such an attitude stinks in God’s nostrils. The kingdom is a one-class society—for sinners only.