Sinners at my table ! – Friday, 13th week in ordinary time- Mt 9:9-13
Someone once well put it, Jesus ate His way through the gospels and He certainly must have eaten a lot. His detractors even accused Him of being a friend of gluttons and drunkards. Not without reason did Jesus sit at table to eat. In Judaism, table fellowship was not merely a time to tuck into stew of vegetables, lentils and chickpeas spiced with herbs. To be invited to someone’s home for a meal, was to be invited into their inner circle.
Matthew would have had more than just a vegetable stew the day he invited Jesus over to dine. He had every reason to celebrate, for the famous son of Capernaum, now a wonder working Rabbi had asked him to be His follower. Just the thought of it was unimaginable for tax collectors such as Matthew were a hated lot and considered to be traitors, for they worked for the enemy, the Romans.
Matthew had more reason to be hated. He was tax collector in Capernaum, which was situated on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it connected major population centres of the world. It was famously known as the Via maris or the way of the sea. Matthew surely made a killing in overcharging taxes from those who passed that way.
All this had now changed and amidst the lavish meal of roast lamb and broiled fish with figs, olives and pomegranates, Matthew and his ‘many’ tax collector and ‘sinner’ friends must have heard a pin drop when the Pharisees asked the disciples of Jesus why He shared such company.
The Lord was not frazzled in the least. Later on in 10:6, 15:24 Jesus will tell His disciples to go to people like Matthew; ‘the lost sheep of Israel’ He called them. The Pharisees too wanted to draw Israel together, but while Jesus shared their goal, His method was different; they excluded, He included. So Jesus makes His agenda clear – He is here for sinners and not for the self-righteous Pharisees.
In narrating this incident of his own call, in about 80 to 90 AD, Matthew is painfully aware of the political and religious situation that his community found themselves in. The temple has been destroyed by the Romans, and the Jews who followed Christ were excommunicated from the Jewish community, and considered sinners and outsiders. In recalling his own humble calling, he gives strength to the community he writes to. He too was an outsider, he too was rejected and Jesus welcomed Him in.
The irony of this passage is not lost on his readers. Matthew certainly followed Jesus and then Jesus followed Matthew to his house, to his table, to his friend circle. There were two followings that day.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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