Matt. 9:9-13 – The Calling of Matthew (and other sinners like us)

A translation and sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church,  08 January 2012


9:9 Now, as Jesus went along from there, He saw a man named Matthew chairing the tax office, and He says to him, “Be following me,” and upon rising up, he followed Him!

9:10 Then it came about that He was seated [for dinner] in the house, and, see, many tax-collectors and sinners had come and were seated together [for dinner] with Jesus and His disciples.

9:11 Now, after the Pharisees saw, they started saying to His disciples, “Why is it with the tax collectors and sinners that your teacher is eating?”

9:12 But Jesus, having heard, said to them, “Those who are strong are experiencing no need of a healer, but rather those who are ill do. 9:13 Now, as you go, start learning: What is, ‘I want mercy and not a sacrifice’? Because I did not come to call righteous men but rather sinners.”


Paintings of the call of Matthew:

·         Vittore Carpaccio (Italian, 1465 – 1525) – A Jack-Sparrow-style Matthew stands by his Booth-like tax station in an outdoor courtyard. The tax-collection booth may well have been in an outdoor setting, but Bible says Matthew was sitting when Jesus called him. I do like the way that Carpaccio pictures Jesus taking Matthew by the hand rather than just pointing at him.

·         Marinus Van Reymerswaele (Dutch, 1490 – 1546) – Matthew sitting up in seat as Biblical account, but Frail-looking white, Chinese Jesus wierds me out.

·         Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571 – 1610 ) – Although I think the Renaissance costumes look ridiculous, I like the diagonal line of light coming from Jesus down to Matthew. Here Jesus is mysterious and shadowy, and Matthew is uncertain if it is him that Jesus is extending the hand of God to. I doubt it was that uncertain.

·         Hendrick Terbrugghen (Dutch, 1588 – 1629 ) Paints a much older-looking Matthew and a much brighter Jesus. Here the choice between keeping the tax books or following Christ is graphically laid out in two opposite directions from Matthew. To follow Jesus is to turn his back on the tax books (and on us). Matthew scratches his head as he considers his decision.

·         Second painting from Terbrugghen is my favorite: There’s all this activity around the tax table, but Jesus intrudes, putting His finger right in to the middle of the picture, and Matthew is visibly riveted. “He wants me to follow him!”

·         Anonymous cartoon from - Now, in the 21st Century, we are much more sophisticated with our art… NOT!

Jesus calls Matthew to follow – v.9

Matthew 9:9  Καὶ παράγων ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς ἐκεῖθεν εἶδεν ἄνθρωπον καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, Ματθαῖον[1] λεγόμενον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν[2] αὐτῷ.

9:9 Now, as Jesus went along from there, He saw a man named Matthew chairing the tax office, and He says to him, “Keep following me,” and upon rising up, he followed Him!


·         paragwn: Mark 2:13 and Luke 5:27 indicate that Jesus went out from his house where He had been teaching (and where He had healed the paralytic) to go by the lakeside and teach people there, and it was in this setting that He ran across Matthew at/inNASV/onlit the receipt of customKJV/tax collector’s boothNAS,NIV/[revenue] officeNKJ

·         Remember that Capernaum was a major intersection of the road in and out of the North end of Israel and was located on the north shore of the sea of Galilee where there was also a lot of boat traffic, so this was a natural high-traffic area to locate a tax station. The Gospel account pictures  him sitting in the seat of an official, perhaps in some sort of covered pavilion on the beach, overseeing the taxation of all the people coming through.

·         “The Romans gathered many different kinds of taxes from their conquered nations… so that the people of Rome did not have to work, but spent their days at the games and easy living… In Jesus’ time, there were taxes on real estate, customs taxes at seaports, and city gates for goods shipped through them, a tax on the produce of the land (usually 10%, but up to 20% in some cases), income taxes, road taxes, taxes on animals and vehicles, [and] sales taxes…[3]

·         Mark and Luke’s gospels call Mathew “Levi, the son of Alpheus” (not to be confused with Alphaeus the father of James the Less). Luke wrote that this man was “named” (onoma) Levi, which would be the name given to him by his Jewish father Alpheus. The name “Matthew” is a Greek name, and it means “Gift of God.” When Matthew introduces his name here in 9:9, he uses the Greek word, legomenon, “said to be,” rather than the word “onoma/named.” In other words, Matthew wasn’t his original name but that was what people called him as he associated with Greek and Roman authorities to tax the Jews and Greeks in the area. It also appears that Jesus preferred to use the name Matthew, since that is the name that sticks in all the Gospel-writer’s lists of the 12 disciples later on.

·         ἀκολούθει Jesus uses the Present tense imperative which implies continuing action rather than just beginning an action:

§         In interpreting this present tense, it’s possible to say Jesus is calling Matthew to begin following Him continually,

§         but I rather think Jesus has already met Matthew, that Matthew has already been following Jesus sporadically, heard His teaching, and seen some miracles, but he’s been trying to keep his job in the tax office, so that day he was back at the office rather than following Jesus.

§         Some people think[4] that Matthew may be the same as the unnamed “officer of the king”/nobleman from Capernaum mentioned in John 4:46 who sought Jesus out in the town of Cana to heal his son back in Capernaum – but there’s little chance of finding that out for sure until we get to heaven.

§         Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with collecting taxes for a government – that is a legitimate function of government, but in Matthew’s case, Jesus wanted him to follow a different calling. Jesus wanted Matthew to be one of His 12 disciples who would carry His message to the world after His death and resurrection and ascension into heaven.

§         Matthew’s training in record-keeping would make him an excellent choice for writing a gospel account, and his familiarity with Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture and language would naturally make him a good communicator of Jesus’ good news.

§         I think Jesus is here calling Matthew to follow full-time and quit his tax office altogether – Keep following me, man, don’t quit and be on-again-off-again. Keep following me.

·         Matthew stands up and follows, never again to sit in the seat of a tax-collector.

§         Luke 5:28 says that “he forsook all.”  -- Would that we all might respond so quickly!

§         The call to Matthew to be a disciple was a special call to apostleship. It is not normal to have to leave your gainful employment in order to be a follower of Christ. The call to Matthew was a special call which most of you will never receive. However, it is interesting that Jesus’ special call to Matthew is laid side-by-side with the more general call to repentance at the end of this story. Luke 5:32 records Jesus ending this discourse by saying, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (You’ll also find that phrase “to repentance” here in Matthew if you have a King James Version8.) The call to repent from our rebellion against God and follow Jesus is a much more general call that I hope all of you have heard and responded to as quickly as Matthew responded to his special calling to be an apostle!

§         Matthew’s immediate abandonment of his job indicates that he has already been thinking about this, has counted the cost and just needed this word from Jesus to cut loose and become Jesus’ full-time disciple.

§         Note, however, that Matthew did not abandon his home. Although he abandoned the tax office, He invited Jesus and his friends into his home right away.

Matthew connects Jesus with sinners – v.10

9:10  Καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτοῦ ἀνακειμένου ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, καὶ ἰδοὺ πολλοὶ τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἐλθόντες συνανέκειντο τῷ ᾿Ιησοῦ καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ.

9:10 Then it came about that He was seated [for dinner] in the house, and, see, many tax-collectors and sinners had come and were seated together [for dinner] with Jesus and His disciples.


·         Jesus “sat at meatKJV/reclined at the tableNAS,ESV/was having dinnerNIV in this house with a whole bunch of tax collectors and sinners who were also “sitting downKJV/recliningESV with/ diningNAS/ eatingNIV with him[5].

·         A lot of people in Asia eat meals at a low table while reclining on floor cushions whereas we use chairs and table, so this was a big dinner party going on.

·         ἐν τῃ οἰκίᾳ - Whose house was this? Mark 2:29 tells us that “Levi [that is, Matthew] made a great feast in his house.” Apparently, Matthew invited all his tax-collector associates to his house for dinner to explain to them that he is no longer going to be a tax collector but is instead going to become a disciple of Jesus.

§         He is announcing his change of life-alignment from the Kingdom of Caesar in Rome to the Kingdom of Heaven, of which he would so frequently speak when he wrote his gospel.

§         Matthew invites Jesus and the other disciples so that his business associates can meet Jesus too and learn from Him. This is an important principle: New followers of Jesus usually have a number of friends and associates who are not followers of Jesus, whereas people like myself who have been Christians for a long time don’t tend to have as many non-Christian friends. It is strategic for new Christians to draw their non-Christian friends into exposure to Christianity. New Christians are better than old Christians at this!

·         Now, what does it mean by “sinners” (ἁμαρτωλοὶ)?

o       Matthew uses this Greek word “sinner/sinners” only five times in his gospel (9:10; 9:11; 9:13; 11:19; 26:45;). The first four occurrences are all from the story we’re looking at today; but the last occurrence is in a different context: Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane as the Jews from the temple are coming to arrest Him, and He says, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” This is a bit ironic: Jesus labels as “sinners” the very Pharisees who called other people “sinners”!

o       The word “sinners” was probably a commonly-used term among Jews to label Gentiles (non-Jews). It appears that Paul uses the word in this way in Galatians 2:15, when he says to Peter, “We are Jews by nature, not sinners like the Gentiles.”

o       However, in Matthew 9:10, this is Matthew using the word to describe his own dinner guests, so I don’t think he is using the term in a derogative way. I think Matthew is using the word “sinners” to identify his friends as people who – like all of us – have come “short of the glory of God” and are naturally out-of-favor with God because of their various sins, and thus are in need of God’s salvation.

o       This is consistent with the way Matthew presents the related Greek word for “sin” (ἁμαρτία) in his gospel (NASB):

§         1:21 “…you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

§         3:6 they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.

§         9:2 Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”

§         9:5-6 “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” --then He *said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.”

§         12:31 “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.”

§         26:28 “this is My blood of the covenant… poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew is orchestrating a meeting of sinners with the One who could forgive them of their sins. Meanwhile, the Pharisees are horrified:

Pharisees criticize this connection with sinners – v.11

Matthew 9:11  καὶ ἰδόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι ελεγον[6] τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· διὰ τί μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν;

9:11 Now, after the Pharisees saw, they started saying to His disciples, “Why is it with the tax collectors and sinners that your teacher is eating?”


·         The Pharisees (and Scribes mentioned in Mark and Luke) would not have had anything to do with a dinner party with tax collectors and sinners, but it was a small enough town that everybody knew what was happening, and they probably buttonholed some of Jesus’ disciples as they were coming out of the party, or maybe the next day asking what on earth was going on.

·         Notice the phrase “your teacher” – Although the Pharisees and scribes had been in Jesus’ house earlier listening to Him teach, they were not ready to follow Jesus and call Him their teacher. Matthew and the other disciples had decided that they wanted to be shaped and molded by the teaching of Jesus and had given up everything to follow Him around and learn from Him.

·         The emphasis of the Greek syntax is upon the words “tax collectors and sinners.” Perhaps the religious teachers expected Jesus to come and eat with them instead, and they are aghast that Jesus was instead eating with a group of tax-collectors. Not only was Jesus not associating with the elite and respectable Pharisees, He was associating with people who were social pariahs – tax-collectors.

·         How many of you would really want to spend your free time at an IRS convention. Not me!

·         The Pharisees also use the word “sinners” here to describe Matthew’s dinner guests, but they do not seem to be using it in the same way Matthew did.

§         The  Pharisees considered everyone who wasn’t Jewish to be therefore automatically more sinful and despised by God.

§         For the Pharisees, the term “sinner” didn’t include them.

§         Anyone who doesn’t include themselves among those who have fallen short of the glory of God and who need Jesus to save them are supremely arrogant and tragically deluded.

§         Even the great apostle Paul who wrote more books of the Bible than anyone else wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1Tim. 1:15b KJV)


Jesus couldn’t let this pass w/o comment, even though the Pharisees hadn’t asked Him directly.

Jesus defends outreach philosophically – v.12

ὁ δὲ [᾿Ιησοῦς[7]] ἀκούσας εἶπεν [αὐτοῖς[8]οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες ἰατροῦ, ἀλλ᾿ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες.

9:12 But Jesus, having heard, said to them, “Those who are wholeKJV/ healthyNAS,NIV/ wellNKJ,ESV/ stronglit are experiencing no need of a physician/ healer, but rather those who are ill do.


·         I don’t know if Jesus was trying to make an allusion to the Septuagint or not here, but I find it interesting that this phrase “hoi ischuontes” only appears four times in the Old Testament, all in the book of Isaiah, and all in an ironic context where the men think they are strong but really they are helpless:

§         Isaiah 1:23-24 Your princes are rebellious, companions of thieves, loving bribes, seeking after rewards; not pleading for orphans, and not heeding the cause of widows. Therefore thus says the Lord, the Lord of hosts, “Woe to the mighty men of Israel; for my wrath shall not cease against my adversaries, and I will execute judgment on my enemies.”

§         Isaiah 3:25 And your most beautiful son whom you love shall fall by the sword; and your mighty men shall fall by the sword, and shall be brought low.

§         Isaiah 5:22-24 Woe to the strong ones of you that drink wine, and the mighty ones that mingle strong drink: who justify the ungodly for rewards… their root shall be as chaff, and their flower shall go up as dust: for they rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and insulted the word of the Holy One of Israel.

§         Isaiah 22:3 All your princes have fled, and your captives are tightly bound, and the mighty men among you have fled far away.

§         In every case, these guys thought they were strong enough, but they really needed help.

·         Jesus is making the simple observation that it’s people who recognize that they are sick that call for a doctor. We don’t look at little Johnny and say, “Wow, he’s looking great today – fit as a fiddle – we really need to take him to see the doctor!”

·         In the Old Testament, Jeremiah longed for someone to come who would be Lord, king, and physician: “Behold, there is a sound of the cry of the daughter of my people from a land afar off [i.e. Babylon]: Is not the Lord in Zion? is there not a king there? because they have provoked me with their graven images, and with strange vanities. The summer is gone, the harvest is past, and we are not saved… Is there no balm in Gilead, or is there no physician there? Why hasn’t the healing of the daughter of my people taken place?” (Jer. 8:19-22) That longing was fulfilled in Jesus coming, our Lord, our King, and the Healer of all harm!

·         This was Jesus’ answer to the Pharisee’s question as to why Jesus was eating with sinners. Jesus, the savior sent from God was seeking to save people, and the people who most obviously needed saving were the blatant sinners. The Pharisees also needed to be saved, but they didn’t realize their need for Jesus’ salvation, so they had no compelling interest in Him.

·         Conversely, the Pharisees had the wrong idea about how holiness and righteousness work. Holi­ness and righteousness are not fundamentally to be preserved by protections from the sinful world outside; Righteousness and holiness are meant to be given away freely to those who need it.

·         Jesus had no need to protect Himself from sinners by avoiding their parties and only staying in the holy huddle of religious people like the Pharisees. Jesus understood that where He belonged was with those who need salvation, and thus he went to the tax-collector party for dinner rather than to wherever it was that Pharisees liked to hang out and eat.


But the Pharisees didn’t get it, so Jesus gives them some homework to take with them. He says:

Jesus defends outreach Biblically – v.13

Matthew 9:13  πορευθέντες δὲ μάθετε[9] τί ἐστιν ἔλεον θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν. οὐ γὰρ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους, ἀλλ᾿ ἁμαρτωλούς[10].

9:13 Now, as you go, start learning: What is, ‘I want mercy and not a sacrifice’? Because I did not come to call righteous[11] men but rather sinners.”


·         Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament book of Hosea 6:6.

·         He is asking the Pharisees to meditate on the meaning of that verse and figure out what it means because it will explain what Jesus is up to and what they too should be prioritizing:

·         What is it that God wants? He told his people through the prophet Hosea:
“I desire λεον = mercyKJV/compassionNAS/orig. Hebrew “chesed” - lovingkindness expressed in a relationship (Hosea 6:6). This rather than “sacrifice” – the killing of animals in the temple to atone for sins.

·         The context of the prophet Hosea was that Israelites were meticulously following all the little temple rituals of offering up sacrifices, but they were not being kind to the weak and the poor, instead, they were robbing, killing, committing adultery, and worshipping idols. Without repenting of those sins, there was no way God was going to honor their temple rituals and forgive them.

·         What would repentance look like? What is the opposite of murder, adultery, stealing and idol-worship? In a word, love. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)


We too should apply this command to ourselves and study What does it mean?

What does this mean for us?

  1. Let us humbly acknowledge our brokenness and need for a savior like Matthew did.
    1. Take comfort that Jesus did not reject the socially-despised and sinful people of His day;
    2. The more sick and sinful you are the more fitting it is for Him to be your savior!
    3. Don’t miss out on God’s mercy like the proud Pharisees who did not see themselves as helpless before God’s wrath and who did not think they needed Jesus to make them right with God. They were the losers.
    4. God hates pride. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up!” (James 4:10)
  2. Let us invite our friends and associates to get to know Jesus, like Matthew did.

Who could you invite over for dinner and share Jesus with?

  1. Let us not primarily focus on protecting ourselves from the corruption of sinful people, but rather primarily focus on sharing the mercy of God with sinful people.
    1. There is, of course, a balance: We are certainly commanded to come out from among those who hate God and be separate from them (Isa. 52:11/2 Cor. 6:17), and we are certainly to guard our innocence when it comes to sinful things (1Cor. 14:20).
    2. But if we have been shown mercy, just as Jesus had shown mercy to Matthew, so we will be able to show God’s mercy to others without fear of other people ruining us.
    3. It’s like a water filter membrane. Water can flow either way through the membrane. However, the side that has the most water pressure is the side that will win out, and water from the side that has the most pressure will flow into the side with the lower pressure. The same goes for anything dissolved in the water; the side with the more powerful concentration of solute will necessarily flow into the side with the weaker solution. So, if we don’t want to be contaminated and destroyed by the sin of the world around us, we merely need to connect to the vastly more powerful love of God, and it will flow through us into the world rather than the other way around!
  2. As God’s people, let us be characterized by lovingkindness, not by rituals
    1. Rituals like having a Bible-reading time every morning or going to church every Sunday or praying before every meal are good rituals to practice because they are means of growing in God’s grace, but if that’s all there is to your spiritual life, you are not being like Jesus.
    2. We as God’s people must be characterized by the same lovingkindness which characterizes God Himself.
    3. God loved so much that He entered into our sinful world to bring His healing grace to us through the life and death of Jesus. We are hereby called to enter the sinful world around us as recipients of that powerful healing grace of Jesus and share His mercy with all who would consider it good news that Jesus came to save and heal them of their sin!

[1] Some Greek manuscripts spell Matthew’s name with two thetas (Μαθθαιον) instead of tau + theta, which is no big difference; variant spelling of proper nouns are extremely common – even in modern English, but even moreso where multiple languages are spoken simultaneously, as was Matthew’s case in the Mediterranean basin in the first Century.

[2] Nestle-Aland’s Critical text of the Greek New Testament lists several Greek manuscripts that have the Present tense rather than the Aorist tense of this verb (א, f1, 892, 1010). Although this could make the action more vividly pictured, it doesn’t change the meaning and would only mirror the Greek practice of occasionally using present tense verbs when telling a story, which occurs earlier in this verse (literally, Jesus “says”) and later on in v.14 (literally, John’s disciples “come”). The NASB faithfully places asterices after words originally in the Greek present tense which have to be translated in the Past tense in English to make sense.

[3] V. Gilbert Beers, The Victor Journey Through the Bible, p.239

[4] ibid, p.238.

[5] Note common root in the words ἀνακει-μένουσυν-ανέκει-ντο

[6] The majority of the most ancient manuscripts spell this word in the Imperfect tense, indicating continuing action in past time “they were saying.” However the majority of younger manuscripts, which is a larger number of manuscripts have the Aorist tense (επον), which indicates simple action in past time. This doesn’t make for significant difference in meaning except perhaps that the imperfect would shade the meaning with the connotation that the Pharisees had a habit of calling Jews down for associating with gentiles like this.

[7] “Jesus” not stated explicitly but implied in א, B, D, 0233, 892, 1010

[8] “to them” not stated explicitly but implied in א, B, C, 892, 1424, and majority of pre-Vulgate Latin translations.

[9] “Learn” in Isaiah used more than in any other book of the Bible. Isaiah pretty much gives the range of use of the word (1:17; 2:4; 8:16; 26:9-10; 28:19; 29:24; 32:4; 47:12)

[10] C,L,Θ,f13, and Majority Greek texts add “to repentance” (εἰς μετάνοιαν), matching the undisputed ending of Luke’s account in 5:32, but the majority of ancient manuscripts of Matthew and Mark do not have this phrase. It explains the meaning of “calling” and does not contradict the rest of scripture, but, by the same token, the rest of scripture can be brought to bear to explain “calling” without this explanation.

[11] Matt. 5:20 “…unless your righteousness exceeds the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”