I’ve always been amazed when the Scriptures tell us how Jesus looked at someone and said, “Follow Me.” Regardless of prior contact or what they’d heard about Him, I believe there was something powerfully attractive in His eyes. Take the call of Matthew. One minute Matthew was sitting in his booth collecting taxes for Rome, and the next he “left everything behind” (Luke 5:28) to follow Jesus.
To fully appreciate Matthew’s calling, you have to understand his profession. The Jews of that day considered tax collectors to be legalized thieves, traitors, the worst of sinners, and moral lepers. They were excluded from any religious fellowship and were considered to be justifiably condemned by God. We have no modern-day equivalent that even comes close. So despised, they were not even lumped in with all the “normal” sinners like prostitutes, drunkards, murderers and thieves. No, they had a special category all their own as the Bible often records the expression: “tax collectors and sinners” (Matt 9:11; Matt 11:19; Luke 5:30).
But Matthew found favor in the eyes of Jesus and walked away from his old life to pursue a new one. His first impulse: throw a big party at his house and invite all his friends to meet Jesus! Matthew, as he remembers that day, writes, “…and behold, many tax collectors and sinners came” (Matt 9:10).
When you read the word “behold” in Scripture, you are meant to inhale rapidly and make a gasping sound like something took your breath away. Try it now to make sure you get it – “and GASP, many tax collectors and sinners came.” Now, look around the room and picture the crowd at the party – the sinner, the outcast, the hurting, the rejected, the abused, the scorned, the damaged, the needy, the sick. Keep looking until you find Jesus. What do you see? Is Jesus standing in the corner hoping no one comes near Him? No, Jesus is hanging out and “dining” with them. He’s having a good time – laughing – listening – building bridges. Hmmm.
Why am I telling you this story? Because unlike the Pharisees that came there only to lecture Him (Matt 9:11), Jesus was comfortable being at this party with these people. More than that, Matthew’s friends felt welcome around Jesus! I’m not suggesting Jesus shrugged His shoulders at their sins. Hardly! He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Rather, I’m saying the only ones who felt uncomfortable in Jesus’ presence were the self-righteous Pharisees. Ask yourself, “do I make others feel welcome in my presence? What do others see when they look in my eyes?”
Jesus answered their grumblings with, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:12-13 NASB). In other words, “Think about what you’re saying. Would you go to a doctor’s office and complain about all the sick people sitting in his waiting room?”
If we are going to learn what it means to follow Jesus…if we are going learn to look through the eyes of the Savior, we must learn mercy. Just a few verses later Jesus says, “Seeing the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36 NASB). Other versions say “harassed and helpless.” Literally, Jesus saw them as “downcast.” If sheep lie down in the grass and accidentally roll over on their backs, a shepherd calls them “cast” sheep. Like a turtle on its back, they become totally helpless, fully exposed to the scorching sun, and even more vulnerable to predators. They are doomed to die without the intervention of a shepherd.
Do you get it? When Jesus looked out at people, He saw them for what they truly were: cast sheep lying helplessly on their backs unable to save themselves – and He was moved to act with deep compassion. Such is the heart of the Good Shepherd.
Jesus is still calling, “Follow Me.” But He’s training shepherds, not Pharisees.
© 2013 Tim McKenzie – www.OnEveryWord.com