Tax Collectors and Sinners
Yeshua returns to Capernaum, where the crowd brings out a paralyzed man. Yeshua is quick to forgive his sins, which raises charges of blasphemy from the scribes. To counter this, Yeshua tells the man to rise, take up his bed and walk, which the individual does, astounding the crowd.
Afterward, we’re given the story of how Matthew came to follow Yeshua which may have led to naming this Gospel after him. In the Gospel of John, the author claims to be the Beloved Disciple spoken of within the story, but nowhere in this Gospel is it claimed Matthew the tax collector had anything to do with the writing of it. Assigning the story to Matthew helps conceal that it’s a more recent work than purported and lends authority to the work.
Calling Matthew as a disciple leads to a description of Yeshua and his followers dining with tax collectors and “sinners” and the reaction it garners from Pharisees and scribes. Yeshua’s response reveals much about his mission.
But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”Matthew 9:12-13 (RSV)
The term “sinner” denoted anyone who was not living according to the Law. Yeshua’s response once again emphasizes that he’s not there to die on anyone’s behalf but to re-affirm the Law. To this end, he promises mercy to those who’ve placed Roman rule over what God commands. As in other places, he’s drawing a distinction between what the Romans say is acceptable versus what God requires of his chosen people. In the Sermon on the Mount, he bestowed blessings on the population that was suffering in silence, and here, he’s extending a peace offering to those who’ve lived outside the Law.
Many of Yeshua’s miracles in this chapter have a symbolic meaning. The deceased young daughter is twelve and the woman with the hemorrhage has been afflicted for twelve years, which is another case of Matthew offering parallel stories that reinforce one another. That the woman with the hemorrhage encounters Yeshua on his way to attend to the deceased girl supports the notion that Yeshua’s activities coincide with the Jewish uprising. Nero had been emperor for twelve years at the start of the Rebellion in 66 CE and was largely the cause of the uprising due to his harsh policies which caused Jerusalem to hemorrhage resources in the form of excessive taxation (thus the focus on calling Matthew the tax collector to be a disciple). Yeshua has come to restore the monarchy and usher in God’s kingdom, stopping the hemorrhaging and resurrecting Jewish self-rule. The number twelve also has astrological significance, being the number of months and the symbols of the Zodiac. What better time to initiate an uprising than twelve years into the rule of a despotic emperor?
The next two miracles demonstrate that Yeshua is gaining in popularity and influence. He heals two blind men, who defy his instructions to tell no one, and a man with a mute demon, who immediately begins talking to the crowd. Yeshua is restoring the vision and voice of the people and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep quiet about it. He concludes by regretting that there are not enough workers to gather in the harvest and in the next chapter, he sets out to change that.
Calling of The Twelve
Yeshua’s lamentation that there are not enough workers to deal with the coming times leads him to call the Twelve, as they are sometimes known, particularly in the letters of Paul. Matthew 10 starts out naming them and giving them their charge.
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zeb′edee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.Matthew 10:1-4
They are presented in pairs, and we know Simon and Andrew, and James and John are two sets of brothers. The pairings suggest connections between those presented together that the Gospel doesn’t elaborate on, other than following the established pattern of presenting people in tandem to emphasize a particular point. It’s interesting that Matthew is paired with Thomas, whose name means “twin” and who lends his name to a sayings Gospel that appears to have been among the sources Matthew relied upon in crafting his Gospel.
In case Matthew has not been clear enough on the intended audience, he once again emphasizes it in Yeshua’s instructions to his lieutenants, which would seem to set them at odds with Paul, the so-called “apostle to the Gentiles”.
These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”Matthews 10:5-6
The calling of the Twelve leads into another lesson from Yeshua this one for his disciples about the coming days. He talks about the struggles they will face and the reaction of the people against them. He advises them to shake the dusk from their feet of any city that does not welcome them.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles.Matthew 10:16-18
The persecution he details had already been experienced by the people in Judea, which is what led to the uprising. A similar tone is set in the Revelation of John, which evidence suggests was also written during the reign of Nero. Though it’s being delivered as prophecy, Matthew’s audience would have read it as an reminder of recent history, and there were, no doubt, many among the congregation who still had vivid memories of the terror inflicted upon them by the Romans.
At last, Yeshua reveals where his movement is leading.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…”Matthew 10:34-35
His message is unmistakable: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Just as John before him, Yeshua rejects the status quo and anyone not on board with this vision is an enemy. He may assure the meek and poor in spirit that he’s not there to further disrupt their livelihood and he may sit down to dine with tax collectors and others who benefit from the established order, but he’s there to end it all and to usher in a new age. Those exiled in Babylon had reached the conclusion that it was disobedience to their God that got them there, and with the age Yeshua is predicting, there will be no room for those who aren’t fully committed to it.