- What are your first thoughts when you read the letters IRS together? Do you have negative or positive feelings about this agency? That’s sort of a rhetorical question, I don’t know many people who get the warm and fuzzies when it comes to our government tax agency. As John Oliver says, “It’s no wonder people hate the IRS. They’re unavoidable, they often function poorly and they combine things we hate the most: losing money and math.”
Things were no different in the world of Israel in the first century. Actually, tax collectors were probably hated more intensely in that context. They were considered traitors for collecting money from the hated Roman oppressors. Add to that the propensity of tax collectors to overcharge people who had no recourse for objection and we can see why tax collectors were lumped in with murderers, robbers and prostitutes.
That’s what makes Jesus’ actions and words so alarming in the section of Matthew we’ll be reading this Sunday – Matthew 9:9-17.
In v9-13 we find the invitation given to Matthew the taxman to become a disciple of Jesus. We wonder if Jesus knew Matthew beforehand and how much Matt knew about Jesus to accept this offer so suddenly. The party afterwards is where the main action develops. What does it say that Jesus is doing at the party? Is he lecturing people about ethics and occupations? Is he handing out tracts? What is he doing according to v10? Sharing a meal was a powerful statement in that culture and time. It meant acceptance and connection. People who ate together were considered a part of each other. Do you see what is perplexing the Pharisees now?
What do you think Jesus’ answer means in v11-13? What does the focus of his mission seem to be on? What is it that the Pharisees focus on? What should we learn from this?
In v14-15, John the Baptist’s disciples seem confused by Jesus’ behavior as well. John taught his followers fasting as a way to encourage God to send his kingdom and end the days of exile. The Pharisees taught that tradition as well. But here is Jesus who seems to be eating a lot (its one of the main thing Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus as doing). Jesus’ answer points to himself as an important part of what it is that John’s disciples were waiting for. What do you think he’s saying?
v16-17 provide two word pictures that contrast something rigid with something flexible. Jesus is contrasting the work of God’s kingdom coming through him with what came before. What came before? What do you think the new wine is, and what is the value of a flexible structure around it?
This should prove to be an intriguing study- hope to see you Sunday!