Friend of Sinners

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:12-13

When Matthew became a tax collector, his Jewish friends, probably even his family, no longer wanted anything to do with him. Tax collectors were considered the worst kind of sinners because of their affiliation with the Roman government which ruled over Israel at that time. The tax collectors charged the amount required by the Romans plus an amount that they kept for themselves.

Jesus caused a stir when He called a tax collector named Matthew to be his disciple, especially among the Pharisees. These religious leaders spent their lives trying to be pure and avoiding people they deemed impure—almost everyone who was not a Pharisee.

Jesus even socialized with Matthew, other tax collectors, and “sinners”—people who did not follow the Jewish Law. The Pharisees asked why Jesus ate with such people. They would never eat with “sinners.” Eating a meal with someone in that culture was a sign of intimate friendship. Jesus replied that the purpose of His ministry was to call sinners; however, He didn’t point out that everyone in the room was a sinner, except Himself.

When Jesus passed by Matthew’s tax booth and said “Follow me,” Matthew got up and followed him. Jesus didn’t tell Matthew to clean up his life first. He called this sinner, and the man immediately left his job, his old way of life. God had a better job for Matthew: he would write a biography of the One who befriended tax collectors and other sinners.

Are you a friend of sinners or do you expect people to clean up their lives first? Aren’t you glad that Jesus calls sinners like us to follow Him?


Read Matthew 17:24-27. Why do you think Matthew included this incident? Had they been paying taxes as Peter said? Why didn’t Jesus just hand him the money? Read about the “sanctuary shekel” (NIV) paid when the Israelites entered the land in Exodus 30:13 and 38:26.

Matthew is sometimes called Levi (Mark 2:14-17 and Luke 5:27-32). Levi in Hebrew means “joined”; Matthew means “gift of Yahweh.” We aren’t told if Jesus changed Levi’s name. Do you know what your name means? If Jesus changed your name, what would do you think He would call you?

Read Matthew 25:31-45. What are some things you or your church could do to show mercy and friendship to sinners?

For two other devotions about tax collectors, see Zacchaeus and The Tax Collector’s Prayer.

Nancy J. Baker


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