A few weeks ago, my son rode in an ambulance. He had attempted what many his age have -- swinging high enough on a swing set to make a complete flip over the top. He failed spectacularly. If you didn't know, according to the show Myth Busters it's impossible, but I'm sure that fact won't dissuade other kids. On the back swing, he must have slipped out of the seat because he landed flat on his back and we called an ambulance to take him to the emergency room.
When the paramedics were leaving, one of them asked me which hospital I preferred because there were several nearby. I chose one of the local hospitals, and the ambulance took him while I followed. He ended up being fine with some bruising on his back, but I was glad there was a place that specialized in helping the sick and injured. Jesus encountered some people who were hurt and desperately needed the care of someone who knew how to fix the broken.
Tax collectors in biblical Israel were despised and hated by the residents. Most were Jewish and yet collected taxes for Rome. The money they dealt with portrayed the image of a false god — the Roman Emperor. To make it even worse, they had a well-deserved reputation of collecting more taxes than required and lined their pockets with the excess
While Jesus is traveling, he sees one of these hated and vilified tax collectors named Matthew and says in Matthew 9:9, “Follow me.” Matthew gets up from his tax booth and begins to follow after Jesus. Jesus and his disciples are invited to eat dinner at Matthew’s house with other tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders were perplexed. Why would Jesus associate with not just one tax collector, but several tax collectors, and even worse, eat dinner with them? Jesus hears the religious leaders questioning his disciples and responds, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” In other words, why wouldn’t he be eating with tax collectors and sinners?
Jesus’ words establish a profound Kingdom principle. Can you imagine a doctor who only saw patients who were not sick? Or a hospital who only admitted patients without any sickness or disease? The doctor wouldn’t see many patients and the hospital wouldn’t survive. Some churches operate with this same mentality. Who needs a doctor? The sick. Who are the sick? Those most likely to be shunned by religion. Matthew, his fellow tax collectors, and various friends were the ones who needed to hear from Jesus.
If the religious had their way, they would only associate with those they believed righteous, but as Jesus reminds us in verse 13, “For I came not to call the righteous, but the unrighteous.” If we are not careful, we can neglectfully echo the sentiments of the Pharisees and place our emphasis on getting together with those like ourselves. Churches can become this way when we decide we prefer fellowship with other Christians more than we care for the broken people around us. But that is not why the church exists! We cannot just surround ourselves with people we consider "righteous," but we were called to glorify God and make disciples.
Our expression of this and our new mission statement is “Helping broken people become Spirit-filled followers of Jesus who help broken people.” Have you spent time lately with the broken? A co-worker who needs prayer, a shunned family member, an outcast like Matthew, the tax collector? The sick desperately need the care of people who know how to fix the broken.