Another interesting note is how this passage reflects more of the social bias against pagans and tax collectors in the larger Galilean society than the rest of the Jesus story does. This apparently negative admonition seems to contrast starkly with the way Jesus actually treated pagans and tax collectors in Matthew’s version of his story.
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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
Consider the following examples:
Jesus welcomed and shared table fellowship with tax collectors:
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 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 9:10-13)
Further, one of Jesus’ own disciples was “Matthew the tax collector.” (Matthew 10:3)
Jesus was also labelled a friend of tax collectors:
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)
Jesus even affirmed tax collectors who were entering his vision of a just human society (the kingdom) over people who refused the vision due to the economic losses they stood to suffer:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.’” (Matthew 21:31)
Although Zacchaeus’ example is found in Luke, not Matthew, it is a great representative of the tax collectors who were choosing to following Jesus:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)
This leaves us with interpretive options. It is quite possible that the the early Jesus community created the procedure in our reading this week as the need arose. It is also possible (though less probable) that this procedure originated with Jesus himself: in this case, the passage teaches us to relate to fellow Jesus followers refusing to listen as Jesus did, as someone to be won again, and as worth extending table fellowship and an invitation to follow Jesus again. I find this interpretation less compelling given how tax collectors and pagans were treated at the time Matthew’s gospel was written.
Regardless of its origins, I do appreciate one nugget of wisdom within the procedure. We’ll unpack this in our final installment, part 3.