Updated: Feb 9, 2019
Jesus says “follow me” to a person that shocks everyone. Even the man himself likely wondered if the words were truly meant for him. He was a tax collector, and the Jewish people considered such men traitors. They took advantage of their fellow Jews in order to make themselves wealthy. How could Jesus possibly ask a person like that to be a follower?
It seems to make no sense. Consider the damage done to his reputation by enlisting such a person. Who could trust Jesus when he chooses a man for his team whose job it is to take the hard earned money of other Israelites and give it to Rome while taking a little extra to line his own pockets?
This leaves us with only two explanations to account for this strange decision: 1) Jesus messed up and is not really sure what he is doing or 2) Jesus knows what he is doing, and it does not matter what happens to his reputation. So, which is it?
As a follower of Jesus, I am learning to trust him even when it does not seem to make sense. Instead of focusing on all the reasons this was a bad move, we must try and understand what this calculated decision means about the mission of Jesus. He emphatically rejected the spiritual path of separation practiced by the religious leaders. They believed separation from sinners produced holiness. Jesus, on the other hand, came to save lost sinners, not isolate himself from them. He came to save those who were far from God, not keep them at arm’s length. The mission of Jesus was to call “sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). He came to offer a new path where people could know forgiveness, hope and the love of God. It did not matter that society rejected the tax collector because Christ did not come to please society, but to save sinners.
Jesus calls his followers to same kind of life that he lived. While we must be smart about our own weaknesses and temptations, and while we need time with other believers to grow and mature in Christ, if we separate ourselves from sinners, we also separate ourselves from the mission of Christ.
Jesus began his ministry preaching: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The gospel or “good news” of the Kingdom is not that Jesus was creating a religious club for us to join, but that he was establishing a path that proclaimed good news to sinners. The Scripture teaches us that God loves even the worst of sinners so much he gave his only Son that we all might know eternal life in the Kingdom.
Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners because he loved them and wanted them to hear the good news of the Kingdom. Today he calls us to continue that same mission in our families, our neighborhoods, our work places and our communities.