Matthew’s Call and Reception

Written by Pastor James Dorman


 1. Thoughts of Matthew, Mark and Luke:

Matthew 9:9–13 (NIV84)   “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. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:13–17 (NIV84)  “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. 15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Luke 5:27–32 (NIV84)  “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”


2. Passage Outline

Matthew’s Call and Reception

Matthew9:9-13; Mark2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32

I. The Call of Matthew (Matt. 9:9; Mk. 2:13-14;Lk. 5:27-28)

II. The Feast in His Honor (Matt. 9:10-13;Mk. 2:15-17; Lk.5:29-32)

a. At the Feast, Jesus sits with Publicans and Sinners (Matt. 9:10; Mk. 2:15; Lk. 5:29)

b. The Objection of the Pharisees (Matt. 9:11; Mk. 2:16; Lk. 5:30)

c. The Response of Jesus (Matt. 9:12-13; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 5:31-32)


3. Information to Consider

The call of Matthew (9:9–13)

9. Matthew, later to be included in the Twelve (10:3), is named in the parallel passages in Mark and Luke as Levi. It seems clear that the same man is concerned (cf. Simon/Cephas for two Semitic names for the same individual). The tax office at Capernaum would be concerned with tolls on goods crossing the frontier of Antipas’s tetrarchy either across the lake from Decapolis or across the Jordan from Philip’s tetrarchy. Matthew was thus apparently a customs official in the service of Herod Antipas rather than a collector of direct taxes, but the two distinct occupations (see Jeremias, NTT, pp. 110–111) are both represented by the Greek telōnēs, and were generally linked together in Jewish writings, often bracketed with thieves and ‘sinners’ in general. Both occupations were despised as unpatriotic and inevitably involving contact with ritual uncleanness, quite apart from the extortion which was an inevitable result of the economic system. There is no evidence of any previous direct contact between Matthew and Jesus (cf. on 4:20), but Jesus was by now well known in Capernaum. That this popular ‘Rabbi’ (cf. 8:19) should take the initiative in calling an outcast to be his disciple was a sign of acceptance to which Matthew understandably responded readily.

10. For sat at table, see on 8:11. Luke specifies that the meal was in Levi’s house. The main point is that Jesus was prepared to sit at table with sinners, a term which could apply to the ‘am ha’āre, the common Jewish people who could not or would not keep the scribal rules of tithing and purity (among whom the tax collectors were prominent), but is used more widely of the immoral (Luke 7:37ff.), heretics (John 9:16ff.) and Gentiles (Gal. 2:15), as well as of tax collectors. To share a meal was a sign of intimacy, and Jesus’ notorious willingness thus to identify himself with the undesirable is a prominent feature of the Gospel portrait (see especially Luke 15:1–2; 19:1–10).

11. The reaction is inevitable. After the objection of the scribes to Jesus’ ‘blasphemy’ comes that of the Pharisees to his behaviour, for practical observance of the law was the main concern of Pharisaism. To be the guest of an ‘am ha’āre disqualified a man from being a ḥābēr, one recognized as observing all the rules of tithing and purity (Mishnah Demai 2:2–3). While the customs officer as such was probably not ritually unclean (though the tax collector was, and rendered unclean any house he entered, Mishnah Tohoroth 7:6), this gathering of sinners would certainly involve the breach of the very detailed scribal regulations relating to food. From the Pharisaic point of view Jesus was undoubtedly in the wrong, as their question implies.

12. Jesus replies with a proverbial saying; similar sayings, portraying the philosopher as a healer, occur in several Greek writings; cf. Luke 4:23. The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees lies in their conception of priorities in the will of God: for the Pharisees the first priority is obedience to regulations, for Jesus a mission to people. A healer must get his hands dirty.

13. Two further sayings reinforce this difference of perspective. The first is a quotation of Hosea 6:6, introduced by a typically Rabbinic formula, Go and learn what this means. It is a call to reflection, for Jesus is pointing not to the surface meaning of the text (the validity of sacrifice is not the point here or indeed anywhere in Jesus’ teaching; cf. 5:23–24) but to Hosea’s underlying concern, the danger of a religion which is all external, in which ritual demands have taken the place of love (mercy represents Heb. esed, normally and appropriately translated ‘steadfast love’ by rsv). Jesus’ table-fellowship to which they object is in fact the supreme fulfilment of God’s desire, while in their censorious indifference is a rebirth of the superficial religion which Hosea deplored. The second saying returns more directly to the present situation, and has the same shocking effect as 8:11–12; those who are to be called (not only to this meal but to the Messianic banquet) should surely be the righteous, but Jesus reverses the standards of formal religion, and invites only the disqualified. Righteous is not entirely ironical: in their sense of the word they were ‘righteous’ (cf. Phil. 3:6), but it is precisely the adequacy of such righteousness that Jesus constantly calls in question (see on 5:20; also on 3:15; 5:6, 10). Sinners who ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ are closer to true righteousness than the self-satisfied.[1]


 4. Questions to Ponder

a. What was the “place of toll”?

b. Why call such a man as Matthew?

c. Does this action of Jesus justify a Christian’s “seeking bad company”?

d. Do Lk. 5:31-32imply that the Pharisees were so righteous they did not need redemption or repentance?


5. Author’s Comments

Within this passage, we find the responses of many of those who were members of the family of God very similar to some of those who comprise God’s family today, “Why would God associate with those who are now separated from Him and not yet members of His adopted family?”.  It portrays a view that the Christian faith is for those who have already transformed their lives into a reflection of God’s desire for those whom He created.  Matthew’s call takes this view and stands it on its head.

Matthew was a tax collector.  While we do not know if his activities were for the Sanhedrin or for the Romans, we do know being a “tax collector” was a profession which was reviled by the people of Israel and activities which led to being ostracized by the citizens of Israel and the members of the Sadducees and Pharisees.

It was this person – this tax collector whom Jesus called to be a member of His earthly inner circle.  Having responded to Jesus’ call, Matthew would spend the rest of His life learning God’s truth, implementing its principles in His life, and partnering with God in the expansion of His eternal kingdom.

These passages also reveal the depth of Matthew’s gratitude for having the opportunity to become a member of God’s adopted family.  It was not an opportunity he felt was due him, he recognized it was a result of God’s grace and desire to reconcile Himself to all whom He had created.  Matthew’s desire to provide a banquet in Jesus’ honor declared his tremendous gratitude and the joy of moving from a citizen of darkness to a member of God’s eternal kingdom of light.

Finally, Jesus reaffirms His reason for leaving Heaven and adopting human form, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Matt. 9:13.  As members of God’s Kingdom, like Matthew, we should celebrate our status in God’s Kingdom and spend time praising and worshiping the God who loves us.  But, we, like Jesus and Matthew, should also be actively engaged it Jesus’ primary mission, “helping those who remain separated from God to discover the Kingdom for which they were created to be citizens.”  For we also were once separated from God and in need of His saving Grace!


6. Closing Prayer


Thank You for the opportunity to see how Jesus interacted with those who were still separated from You and pursuing a lifestyle which was different from those being pursued by members of Your Kingdom.

As we pursue our lives, may we be excited and encouraged by the hope Jesus brought into the life of Matthew.  A hope which still spurs us on to pursuing the life You have called each of us to take.

In Jesus’ Name!  AMEN.


7. Answers to “Questions to Ponder”

a. It was probably a small hut or booth. It was a place to collect duties on goods and fares for people ferried across the lake.  It could also have been a place where taxes were collected on produce brought into Capernaum.

b. Jesus would want to establish a kingdom that welcome both the rich and the poor. He must have seen great potential in the man called Matthew.  Matthew was to become an example of how the power of God could transform lives and cross social barriers.  Goodspeed mentions Matthew’s level of education and how Jesus might have wanted him to become His scribe due to this reality.

c. Yes and no. Jesus’ intention was to show them the road to the Kingdom of God.  It was not to follow the example of life they were pursuing.  We must always examine our intentions and the fruit of our activities, otherwise we will not be accomplishing anything for the Kingdom of God.

d. Jesus was stating He could only heal those who recognize their state of unrighteousness.  In the case of the Pharisees, they were being eaten up by a hidden cancer and did not know they were even in need of a doctor.



[1] France, R. T. (1985). Matthew: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 171–172). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.