SynopsisIn this passage Jesus meets a man named Matthew—the author of this book—who is a tax collector. According to this passage, Jesus simply says two words to Matthew: “Follow me.” Apparently they’re enough, though, because Matthew does leave his tax booth, and follow Jesus (verse 9 (ESV) ).
We then find Jesus, Matthew, and various other “tax collectors and sinners” (verse 10 (ESV) ) having a meal. This shocks the Pharisees, who ask Jesus’ disciples why he would be eating with such people. Jesus overhears the question, and tells them that people who are well don’t need a physician—people who are sick do. An obvious metaphor for righteousness; someone who’s righteous (if that were possible) wouldn’t need to be saved, but someone who’s not righteous needs saving. (Perhaps more importantly, in this context, people won’t go to a physician to ask to be healed unless they realize they’re sick.)
He ends the passage by telling them:
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (verse 13 (ESV) )
The quote is a reference to Hosea 6:6 (ESV) .
ThoughtsIt’s important that Matthew was a tax collector because the Jews didn’t like tax collectors; you’ll often see tax collectors lumped together with sinners in the Gospels. (e.g. verse 10 (ESV) in this passage.) Jewish tax collectors were viewed as traitors by other Jews, because by definition they would have to be cooperating with the Romans, who were occupying the country and ruling the Jews. There was also the fact that there was a perception—perhaps justified—that tax collectors were crooked, and that they would take more money than was required and pocket the difference.
In the text of this passage, Jesus simply says the two words “follow me” to Matthew, and Matthew follows him. Does that mean that this is all Jesus said? It might not be; I don’t think we have to give up the inerrancy of the Bible if we wonder whether there was more to the conversation than these two words. At the very least, Matthew probably already knew who Jesus was, even if only by reputation. There might have been more words said than this; the point is that Jesus told Matthew to follow him, and Matthew did; this is a summary of the conversation, and not necessarily a word-for-word transcription. (Based on the way it’s phrased here, though, I am guessing it was a shorter conversation than one might expect, for a man to give up his livelihood and follow Jesus as a disciple.) If we assume that this is a summary, and not a word-for-word transcription, it doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t true; it just means that it’s summarizing.
The point, though, is that the person Jesus chose to call, in this instance was a tax collector. He is not who people would have assumed Jesus would call to be an apostle. People probably would have assumed that he’d call Pharisees to be his disciples, but he didn’t; they didn’t even realize that they needed a physician.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that only people who are sick need a physician; people who are well have no need of a physician. This is a metaphor, and a perfect example of one that we don’t want to take too far—because if we do, it would seem that there are people who need saving, and people who are righteous enough that they don’t need saving. But that’s obviously not true; there has never been anyone (other than Jesus) who was righteous enough that they didn’t need saving from their sins. (Including the Pharisees.) The Pharisees just thought that they were righteous.