Jared: All right. Well, good evening. My name is Jared. I'm one of
the pastors and leaders here at TNL. Like Dan said, thanks for being with us
here on a Tuesday night. We are continuing in the season of Lent, and it's a
season of these 40 days that we journey towards the Crucifixion, the burial,
the Resurrection of Jesus. It's a season of reflection. It's a season of
contemplation. It's a season that we, as a church, both join the church
citywide and worldwide in these practices of giving up and taking up. It's a
season where we intentionally create the spaces in which we can hear and we
can respond to God.
This Lent, at TNL, we chose to immerse ourselves in the stories of Jesus from
the book of Matthew. We are inviting you to join along with us as one of these
practices during Lent and daily readings that you can find online through the
book of Matthew. What we want to do is we want to look and we want to listen
for what Jesus is saying and what he's doing, because sometimes in the space
that we've created, we may actually be able to see something differently. We
may be able to hear something differently. We would be surprised, maybe
comforted or challenged, by engaging the text a bit deeper because of the
space that we've created during this season.
As I've been reading through the book of Matthew, there was one text that I
circled a couple of times, a few verses in the chapter nine of Matthew. They
were actually the readings from this last week, if you've been reading along
with us. In the time together that we are tonight, I want to enter into the
story and maybe hear what God has to say. You can either turn on your Bible if
you carry it in your pocket, or if you carry it in your hand, open to Matthew,
Chapter 9, Verse 9.
It says, "Jesus went on from there," there being his hometown, "and 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. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does
your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' On hearing this, Jesus
said, 'It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Go and learn what
this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice, for I have come not to call the
righteous, but sinners.'"
What I found intriguing about this text is that, every time that I read it, I
began to identify with different characters in this narrative. The first time,
it was actually the Pharisees, then Matthew, then the disciples, and actually,
in small ways, Jesus himself. Every time, this story took on a little bit of a
deeper and richer meaning. Every time that I was willing to find a different
angle or a different perspective, I started to believe that each character was
experiencing something that was actually completely unexpected.
What I thought is that if we would be willing to see something and experience
something new, that usually one of two things happens and maybe both. One is
that it illuminates somewhat of the hidden values in our lives that lay
underneath our everyday behaviors. The second is that it invites us to realign
our lives based on maybe a shifting set of values.
Tonight, I would like to invite you into this situation that we read into this
story and find yourself. Questions: what characters do you immediately
identify with? Which ones do you impulsively reject? Are you willing to see
and experience something new? Because if you are, I believe those two things
could happen: one is that you may actually allow the hidden values that lie
underneath your behaviors to be illuminated and that you may hear the words of
Jesus inviting you to re-orient your own life.
Now, it's been said that there are only two things certain in life, and those
are death and taxes. Right. A small service announcement for those of you in
the room, that the taxes in the United States of America are due in less than
a month, April 15, which is a Tuesday, which is probably a good thing that you
get to go to church after you file your taxes. It's actually the Tuesday of
Holy Week, which makes it a great Tuesday to be at TNL.
Now I'm going to attempt to regain your attention while your mind is wandering
down the very dark rabbit hole of your W2s and Quicken, right? In the text
tonight, it's not the ... It is the first time, but it's definitely not the
last time that Jesus interacts with questions about taxes and tax collectors.
Taxes in the Roman world were a corrupt business to be in. Not much has
Every level, it seems, in Roman economy, someone was taking a cut, and it was
expected. One commentary said about the cultural context of taxes in Rome,
"The systematic and direct taxation of the country to Rome was an
inextinguishable subject of hatred and strife between the rulers and the
ruled. The amount assessed by Rome was no measure of the ultimate extortion."
So there's layers of extortion from this culture. First you have the taxes
from Rome, and then you have the taxes from the province, and then eventually
you get down into this district tax. This district or area tax or road tax is
the one that no Roman would actually be involved in. The Roman tax and the
province tax is where Rome was taking their cut, but it would actually be a
Jew who would be in this office of ... like a public office of a district tax,
an area tax, a road tax. But it's a Jew that has chosen to support and get his
support from the empire of Rome.
There's this road that Jesus is walking on between his home town and the next
village he's headed to, and it's a pretty typical road, a road that goes down
to the sea where the fishermen work and where their businesses would be
extorted. It's the road in which poor people would walk and be oppressed. It's
the road that Jesus would walk back and forth on. On this road, there's a guy
sitting, taking his cut, named Matthew.
Now, beyond the cultural hatred of the public office, there's also a spiritual
perspective that almost every Jew had about anyone who would be in this
occupation, which was simply that there was absolutely no respect and no hope
for redemption. One author described the reputation of tax collectors this
way: they were licensed robbers. Their money was dirty, and it would defile
anyone who took it. They could not serve as a witness because their word was
seen without a basis of truth.
Jesus looks at Matthew, a tax collector on a road collecting dirty money, and
says to him, "Follow me." It's a new experience. It's a new experience for
everyone involved, right? The tax collector has been invited to join company
with a rabbi, which would be about as likely as me joining a boy band as the
lead singer. It might actually be a little less likely. The question is, what
parallel universe did we actually just enter into where the people who are
extorting and oppressing get this invitation to follow?
Everyone is disoriented by the invitation. Everyone is probably in some levels
of mild shock. Matthew, my guess, high levels of shock. As a tax collector, he
has been invited to follow a rabbi. The disciples, Jesus' new friends and
followers, are in shock about the situation. The Pharisees, based on their
words, are pretty clearly in shock about the situation. Seemingly, the only
person who's not in disarray about what's going on is the only one who sees
both the situation and everyone in it clearly, and that's Jesus.
At this point, I would like to observe that there are probably four, maybe
five friends that Jesus has invited to follow him. He's just initiated his
public ministry, and he's began to invite these people to follow him. The
first four are two sets of blue-collar brothers that are working the family
business of fishing. Peter and Andrew, Peter is probably known in his time
like he is in ours, which is that he often spoke first and then thought later.
You can probably insert sailor's temper somewhere in here about Peter.
Then the other two are James and John, which are known as the sons of thunder.
My guess is that they are the best kind of brothers, incredibly tight-knit,
incredibly deeply loyal, and they trust each other. The only other one,
according to the different texts, that may have been invited in before Matthew
is a guy named Thomas. Thomas is the guy with a million questions and doesn't
take anything without a lot of explanation.
Jesus has decided that we're going to take four rowdy fishermen and a guy who
questions everything, and we're going to introduce a tax collector to the
group because that's a good idea. Just think about it for a moment. Matthew
has been extended an invitation to follow alongside those who he has made life
incredibly difficult for, he's potentially stolen from, and definitely he has
deeply offended them.
The disciples are faced with that the invitation that Jesus has extended to
them to follow me, he's also going to start extending to others that are not
like me, and if I'm honest, that I don't like. Here's where we find ourselves,
because if we choose to follow the way of Jesus, I will have to be confronted
with, I'm going to be invited into a community, into a family, with those that
I potentially have extorted or lied to or wounded, and I will be confronted by
those who have extorted and lied and wounded me.
If the story couldn't get any better, now we add to the storyline the
Pharisees. It's like a Muppet show, where the two old guys that are watching
this thing go down now decide to interject their commentary. It's actually the
Pharisees that I first identified with in the story. A decade or so ago I
realized, as I was reading through scriptures, if there was anyone in all the
stories that I was most likely to be if I was living in the time of Jesus, I
would in fact be a Pharisee. Because of my tradition, my performance, and my
personality, I would have been these guys.
I was really encouraged. I was reading a book by Eugene Peterson, and he
wrote, "There was much to admire in the Pharisees. Every Jew owed a debt of
gratitude to the Pharisees for keeping their Jewish identity alive. I don't
think we appreciate the Pharisees nearly enough." He continued, "The Pharisees
had historically proven their sincerity and loyalty to the demands and
promises of God wonderfully. They were the strongest and most determined party
of resistance to the ways of the world."
See, the Pharisees, like Phil stated last week, had created laws around the
laws to make sure that they wouldn't, in fact, break any of the laws, which if
you think about it, it's actually a brilliant idea. It's how the steps of
recovery work. I was talking to a friend this weekend. See, you make buffers
that keep you from getting into the places that you know aren't good for you.
You go to meetings every week, or you go to meetings every day. You don't go
out alone. You don't eat alone. You weigh in. You check in. You put filters on
your internet. You create a list. You have accountability partners. You have
all these rules around the rules to make sure that you don't do the wrong
The Pharisees were doing the right things. They just failed to see that,
somewhere along the way, they were so concerned about doing the right things
that they began to do the right things in incredibly wrong ways, which was my
story for a decade or two. The Pharisees had preserved and been preserved by
religious traditions, by religious practices, and these words about God.
Again, my story.
But where things go wrong for them, and where things went wrong for me, was
that they had both preserved and been preserved so much that they were like a
cat in my college biology class, floating in a jar of formaldehyde. The cat
was there, a fully-formed feline, not decaying at all ever. Floating in
formaldehyde, the cat smelled like sulfur and hadn't actually taken a breath
Eugene continues, "The Pharisees and their commitment to keep the truth exact
and separated from the world's ways used a language that was impersonal and
controlled as possible. The Pharisees used language to defend and to define.
They discussed endlessly the rights and wrongs of various behaviors. They
loved definitions. They used language seriously and colorlessly."
See, the world of Pharisees is black and white. It needed to be. Rome was
polluting their culture. Jews were selling out to Caesars. Jews were actually
tax collectors for Caesar and Rome. God and his word needed to be defended,
which is why Jesus frustrated them so much. The situation's a perfect example.
He has just invited a tax collector to follow him, and then he goes to the tax
collector's house and eats with him and his sort of people. And there is
Jesus would tell stories, and he didn't use the agreed-upon language that
clearly showed when somebody was in and somebody was out. His invitation to
Matthew would infer that actually anyone could be invited in. He's going to
invite people to follow him and to be with him, not just rehearse and recite
these religious statements of belief. He doesn't seem to particularly care
about enlisting the help of those who have been helping God out for so long,
and so there's this uncertainty about Jesus, about what he's going to say next
and who is he going to associate with next.
Peterson contrasts Jesus to the Pharisees in saying, "Jesus, no less committed
to the truth and no less concerned about the dangers of the world, used
language that was intensely personal and relational and participatory." See,
Jesus extends invitations. He extends invitations to follow. He extends
invitations to re-orient the way that you see things, and possibly he was the
one who was extending invitations to some really good parties.
See, Jesus' invitation to Matthew opens up an interaction to an entire network
of questionable characters. It's how society actually works. There are people
that are known as networkers or gatekeepers, and if you meet one of them, all
of a sudden, you meet all of their friends. This last weekend, I had the
opportunity. I have two very good friends here at TNL, that they invited me to
come to this little party downtown on St. Patrick's Day, and I ended up
meeting a hundred of their closest friends on this deck. It was spectacular,
because most of us find out that people have friends, right?
Matthew has friends. Matthew has money, and sometimes, if you have money you
have friends. Maybe just because you have money, you have friends, but
Matthew's friends are known as this: sinners and tax collectors. Now, it's one
thing to invite a tax collector into your group so you can reform them. It's a
completely and entirely other thing to have a party with the tax collector's
friends, but I question who's actually throwing the party.
The text says that the meal is at Matthew's house, so the question is: does
Matthew throw the party so he can introduce all of his friends to Jesus, or
maybe did Jesus throw the party and tell Matthew to invite all of his friends
to his house? However it goes down, Jesus and his merry men now find
themselves surrounded by a whole houseful of people who don't and haven't hit
At this point, I would like to note how they describe all the people that are
at the party. I find it fascinating how often Jesus and everyone else uses the
term sinners as an appropriate adjective of people and how possibly
uncomfortable it would be to describe anyone that way today. Except for the
skit on Saturday Night Live, I don't think that I've ever heard anybody use
the word sinner as a way to describe a group of people, but sinners were
recognized. They were recognized for the choices that they had made. They
know, and possibly they were known by, the ways in which they had lied, taken
a bribe, broken a promise, inflicted harm, and in general, just missed the
There's a question here that lies about Jesus at this party for me. Who is
influencing who at the party? See, it's the reputation of Jesus being at the
party that the Pharisees have questions about. They have no particular
questions about Jesus' behavior, but the question is what kind of man eats
with these kinds of people? What kind of person associates with these kind of
people? Jesus says, "Well, I've come to call these sinners. I'm the one that
believes that the sick need a doctor, not the healthy." He's about extending
But somewhere I recognize in my own life, and I seem to see in the community
both of TNL and most people who try to follow the way of Jesus, there's
somewhat of a ditch-to-ditch thinking that's the temptation that we stumble
into, because at times we can project Jesus at parties as licensing our
behavior because of his statements to the religious preservationists, but I
believe that both groups are actually missing the mark. Both groups are
missing and sinning and dying, and both need rescue.
See, one is death by rules that looks preserved, but the reality is is that,
in fact, they are not breathing, that there is no truth there. Jesus would go
later on to describe the Pharisees as white-washed tombs, which is a pretty
good way of saying dead, but polished well on the outside. But the other is
death by indulgence. Nothing's ever preserved. Nothing's treasured or honored.
Pleasure and prestige that's enticing to the eyes and to the body is what you
go for, but you don't recognize how that is just ripping and tearing apart
God's design and his desire, and it's just destroying your soul. Both groups
have situations and stories about how they're missing the mark.
Jesus overhears the Pharisees showing up to the party and questioning his
friends and followers, the disciples. Jesus offers a message, a very brief
one. It's amazing how short some of Jesus' teachings are. I'm sure all of you
would appreciate that, but Jesus says this, "Go learn what this means." Now,
"go learn what this means" is a common line of a rabbi, that he would tell his
students, "Go study this. Go do your homework, and when you're done, come
back." Don't miss at least the mild irony and deep humor in the fact that
Jesus is telling those who teach the words of God, "How about you go do your
homework on the words of God?"
The words that he quotes is, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Jesus is quoting
the prophet Hosea. It's an incredibly disturbing little book in the Old
Testament about a husband, his adulterous wife, who is, in fact, a prostitute,
and her three kids. The life of this one man, Hosea, plays out the character
of God for his people and the rebellion of the people against God, their
refusal to return to Him.
Hosea's actually the last prophet before the country falls into captivity. His
words and his life show that Israel, who has become a harlot, refuses to
choose God and that there are consequences because they will not turn, they
will not listen, they will not acknowledge how dark and depraved their worship
of sexuality and power and pleasure have become. Hosea's wife has three kids,
and they named them these darkly poetic names. One included is named "Not My
People" and the other, "No Mercy," because God wants his people to recognize
the full weight of the wrongs.
As you read the book of Hosea, and if you choose to do it, I would encourage
you to try to read it in one fell swoop. Doing that in the message actually
allows you to do it, as I've done it several times this last week, and it's
heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking about Israel's return ... or excuse me,
their rebellion and refusal to return to God as their Father and as the true
In the book, God tells his people, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." He says,
"I want you to know my heart, not just rehearse these religious rules." Why?
Because mercy is the character of God. Mercy is not a blind acceptance of
behavior, but it holds the full weight of those wrongs, but it does not hold
them against the one who has done them.
See, mercy is what Matthew hears in Jesus' invitation to follow. Matthew hears
mercy in that his past choices will not determine his future calling. Matthew,
the guy whose word could not be trusted, is the guy who writes a biography of
Jesus that is not only trusted, but is handed down over centuries. Millions of
people not only trust Matthew's words but trust Jesus' words because of
Matthew's writing them.
Mercy is what the band of brothers hear, in that Jesus is inviting someone who
has been part of the extortion and oppression of their life to now be a part
of their community and their family and their future. Mercy is what the
Pharisees hear and have such a ridiculously difficult time with because it
just doesn't line up with the black and white of defining and defending
reality. Mercy is what, I believe, everybody at the party hears in Jesus'
words as a very real possibility for them, no matter how far they may have
missed the mark.
An invitation to mercy, it's such an appropriate invitation for us in this
season of Lent because, in this season of Lent, we recognize, we openly
acknowledge that we have missed the mark. It may be the one time of year that
we are willing to openly acknowledge that we, in fact, are sinners. Sinners is
who we were when we were found by God. It's who we are on our own and that we
are in desperate need of mercy, that none of us is right or righteous on our
own, that we're all sick and need a doctor, that we need rescue.
And so we're invited to recognize, not be condemned by the full weight of our
wrongs, but because of what we have done, God's mercy has come upon us and
rescued us. The prayer that Phil said just a couple weeks ago is probably one
of the best prayers to say on a very consistent basis. "Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy." It's the prayer that puts us in the company of all these
characters who are looking to Jesus and hearing an invitation to follow me.
See, follow me. Jesus confronts all the characters in the story: Matthew and
all of his friends at the party; the Pharisees and all those who are trying to
follow all the rules; disciples, everyone who ends up coming into this family
and community of friends. Jesus re-orients everyone's perspective of who God
is and who they are. They're all invited to follow, and they're all invited to
As a church, together, we are following the way of Jesus. See, as a community,
we come to these stories, to these texts, and we want to hear and we want to
respond to the invitation to follow Jesus. So as a community, we need to
recognize that our past lives of taking our cut, of our concern only for
ourselves, of selling out to the empire, do not determine our future.
As a community, we need to recognize and accept that those who follow Jesus
with us and are invited into being friends and followers of Jesus alongside us
will often be those who we have wounded and those who we have been wounded by,
that mercy has been extended to us and an invitation to follow has been
extended to us, but mercy has been extended to them and the invitation to
follow has been extended to them.
As a community, one of the most challenging things is that we could preserve
and be preserved by all sorts of rules, but miss out on the heart of God and
this invitation to life. If we are not careful, we end up living in a black-
and-white world and we miss Jesus' words and invitation to follow and to show
I think, as a community, we get to see the opportunities in hosting parties
where mercy is shown, not parties that are a license to continue sinning and
missing the mark of life, but parties where Jesus' words are heard and where
his life is seen and where the invitation to follow him is known. Together,
we're invited to follow, and together, we're invited to show mercy. Together,
would we be changed by the invitation, and together, would we join God in
changing the world? Would you pray with me?
God, thanks for stories that remind us that, wherever we may find ourselves,
you have something to say to us. For those of us who expected to just kind of
walk into the room and walk out of the room and not have to hear anything from
you tonight, because honestly it's a bit inconvenient at times to have our
lives re-oriented, I ask that you would do that, that you would interrupt us a
Interrupt us because we are the one that thinks that our past is way too
colorful for you to actually invite us into following you. Interrupt us
because we live in a black-and-white world full of rules and regulations and
we may, in fact, be missing out on your heart. Interrupt us because we are
following you, but we are deeply offended by those that you might invite to
follow you beside us.
If there are those of us who have been wounded or have wounded others in a
family, in a community, God, may we extend mercy to each other? Wherever we
are, God, we believe that you have something to say, and we want to hear, and
we want to respond. We pray this in the name of your son, Jesus. Amen.
1Ahmed M = "Think about all the trivial things in your life that shift your focus away from God. Do you find that you dedicate more time to sending text messages and posting status updates than to prayer and time with God?"
2Ahmed M = "Giving up chocolate or Facebook for 40 days is great, but why not do something positive, too, instead of just removing the negative?"
3Ahmed M = "Resolve to spend more time volunteering, with your family, pray more, or somehow get in touch with your faith."