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Edward F. Markquart

Gospel Analysis, Matthew, The Tax Collector

PENTECOST  2A      Matthew 9:9-13

SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, p. 42.

Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198 

This Bible study is from THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations beginning in 2005.

#44 THE CALL OF LEVI (MATTHEW)     Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32

Like all stories, this is another good story in which to look carefully at the details that help us appreciate the fullness of the story.

-Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. The sea in the text is the Sea/Lake Galilee.

Chorazin and Bethsaida







Shore of the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. Photo copyrighted, BiblePlaces.

-As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, Levi was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated and despised in Jesus’ day. These Jewish tax collectors were working for the Romans by collecting Roman taxes. The tax collectors made a healthy commission by tax collecting and they were the richest people in town. There were several Roman taxes: a ground tax on which a Jewish farmer paid 10% of his grain and 20% of his fruit to the Romans; an income tax of 1%; a poll tax just for living; a travel tax to travel on Roman roads; an animal tax to take your animal on the Roman roads, etc. One Biblical commentator says that “tax collectors were universally hated and notoriously dishonest.” The tax collectors were disbarred from attending the synagogue and they were considered unclean by the Jewish law.

The Jews of that era looked down on tax collectors. We recall in Luke 18:11 that “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector.” In other words, tax collectors were in the same category as robbers and adulterers.

We also think of Matthew 18:17 which says, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” In other words, kick the guy out. Don’t have anything to do with him. Ostracize him.

Also, some Biblical scholars conclude that Matthew was the collector of the literary materials that were added together to compose the Book of Matthew. Matthew himself may have been the author of Special M, those special verses that are found only in Matthew. Matthew would have relied heavily on the outline and content of the Gospel of Mark (coping 91% of Mark), plus the teaching document called Q, and the Special M material. As a tax collector, he would know how to write, unlike the fishermen who were Jesus’ disciples. An Early Church Father by the name of Irenaeus (200 CE) concluded that Matthew, the tax collector, was the “author” of the “Hebrew book,” the Jewish Gospel of Mathew.

This painting is by Rembrandt. Notice the book in the painting. The book is symbolic of Matthew being the final collector (author) of the Hebrew gospel which was written especially for Jewish people. Notice the “angel” behind Matthew. The “angel” is symbolic of the angel giving Matthew the message of the gospel.

 The following painting is by Caravaggio. Notice that book which is symbolic of Matthew being the author (final collector) of the Gospel of Matthew. Notice the angel or messenger. Notice the angel’s hand on the hand of Matthew. It is as if the angel is guiding Matthew as he writes his gospel.

  This story begins in a tax booth, perhaps by the side of the road. The tax booth by the side of the road is a picturesque and juicy historical detail.

-And he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. We assume that Matthew previously knew Jesus and heard and seen him talk on other occasions. The invitation to discipleship was follow Christ and Matthew did. We, too, are to follow Christ, to walk in his footsteps, to follow his path of love. Circle he words, “follow me.” That is what disciples do: we follow Jesus.

See the painting below. Jan Sanders van Hemessen. Jesus Summons Matthew to Leave the Tax Office. 1536. Oil on panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany. We can see that the painter envisioned Jesus and Matthew in sixteenth century German customs.

Melchior Broederlam. Annunciation and Visitation.

-He left everything. Only in Luke. Highlight. Notice that Luke again emphasizes that Matthew “left everything” and followed Jesus. Similarly, in Luke 5:1-11, p. 22 in the SYNOPSIS, we notice that the first disciples “left everything” and followed Christ. In Luke’s version of the story of the rich young ruler, Luke 18:22, p. 218, notice that only Luke has the rich young ruler selling all that he has. When we finally get to Luke’s book of Acts and the lives of the early Christians, we will find these early Christians selling their possessions and giving the gifts to the poor. Luke seems to be building his description of radical discipleship in which a Christian shares generously of his/her material possessions with the poor.

Some Christians and churches have interpreted these sections of the Bible literally e.g. “sell all you have and give to the poor.” The result is “medieval monasticism” where monks sell all their property in order to be monks/priests who pledge “poverty, chastity, and obedience.” Throughout history, certain Christians have interpreted these passages to mean to God wants us to live a life of poverty. I am not one of them.

-And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, The gospels tell us that the scene has changed in this story, and it is now at the home of Matthew and that Matthew has prepared a great feast. It seems that this conversation was held in the house belonging to Levi, the tax collector.

-Many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. So it wasn’t just Matthew who was present. There were a whole group of tax collectors present with other sinners. How did the other tax collectors get there? They were invited. By whom? By Matthew, we assume. Matthew had gone out to other tax collectors and told them about Christ and invited them to his own home for a meal with Jesus to see for themselves who this Jesus was. It reminds us of the story of the “Samaritan woman at the well” and her invitation for her friends to come and see this Jesus.

-When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, Again, in so many of the stories about Jesus, there is a conflict set up and this conflict is between the legalistic righteousness of the Pharisees/scribes and the “so-called” unrighteousness of the tax collectors/sinners. This is the first of innumerable conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees. This encounter is the first one.

 -They said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" This is at the heart of the story. We recall the previous comments about tax collectors who were hated and despised in Jesus’ day. Jesus seems to consistently be drawn to the people of the land, the downtrodden, the poor, maimed, blind and lame (according to Luke), the outcasts, the lepers, the demonics, epileptics, and paralytics. None of these people were part of the religious establishment nor were they found in the synagogue on Friday night because they were excluded from the synagogue for various religious reasons. Such people were considered “sinners.”

When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." This teaching too is at the heart of the story. This is why this particular story is included in this place. The story is ostensibly about Matthew’s call to discipleship, but the reason this story is placed in this location among the other healing stories is that sick people need a doctor. Jesus became known as the Great Physician because Jesus healed both sick bodies and sick souls/emotions/minds. Jesus came to heal those who were sick physically and sick emotionally/spiritually/mentally. Some people do not think that they need the healing of Christ; others do. Jesus wants us to see ourselves as people who need the healing powers of Jesus in our lives. 

-Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy and not sacrifice. (only Matthew) Matthew’s gospel, appealing to a Jewish audience, once again quotes from the Old Testament, from Hosea 6:6. The Pharisees and their scribes had defined their religion by doing the sacrifices, obeying the Jewish laws and traditions, and following letter of the law of their Bible, especially the Law/Torah. (The Law is composed of five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.) We Christians can become like the Pharisees of old and obey our Christian traditions, Christian laws and Christian interpretations that become more important than being merciful like God/Jesus. The word, “sacrifice,” is symbolic of religious rituals, religious traditions, religious interpretations which become more important than everyday, common mercy that people can give to one another. A fundamental problem for the Old Testament prophets was that people “did religion” as a substitute for doing justice and righteousness for the needy. The same problem exists today when people “do the church thing” as a substitute for doing mercy in our world around us.  

-I came not to call/invite the righteous but sinners. Highlight.  The word, “call,” can also be translated “invite.” Jesus did not invite people who thought they were righteous but people who knew their need of God. Similarly, with us as Christians, we are to extend our invitation to know and follow Christ to those who know their need of Christ/God in their lives

This is the first New Testament passage quoted by the early church fathers as Scripture.

-To repentance. (Only Luke) Luke likes the word, “repentance,” and inserts in here. We are to turn from our sins.


*It seems wise to focus on the Call of Levi/Matthew and save the second part of the text for next year, Pentecost 3B. Pentecost 3B focuses on the next unit of Scripture, #95, Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage. Both parts of the text are classic stories and each part of the text deserves a sermon on it.

*The story itself about the call of Levi/Matthew is powerful and needs to be retold.

 *There are statements in the story which are memorable: “Those who are well have no need of a doctor but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners, those who know they are in need healing.”

 *”Learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

#95. JAIRUS’ DAUGHTER AND THE WOMAN WITH THE HEMORRHAGE     Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56 P. 84.

Context: We are studying a sequence of four stories: the stilling of the storm, the Gadarene Demoniac, Jairus’ daughter, and the woman with the hemorrhage. See pages 122-125 in the SYNOPSIS. We find this sequence of four stories in all three gospels, Mathew, Mark and Luke. These four stories belong together as a series.

The story is told in detail in all three gospels. Each gospel offers a unique perspective.

The details from this story are superb and make for colorful storytelling.

- When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Jesus returned from the Decapolis, perhaps to the village of Capernaum and to the synagogue in his own hometown. Mark says that “they were beside the sea” and there were not many villages on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was a village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

-Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, Mark’s gospel tells us that Jairus was one of the rulers of the synagogue. Jairus was an important person in his community. From Biblical scholars, we learn that Jairus was not a teacher, rabbi or political member of the ruling Sanhedrin, but that he was the presiding leader of the synagogue. That means, he was responsible for worship e.g. appointing those who read the Scriptures during worship, prayed during worship, and taught during worship. It also seems that he may have been wealthy or a person of economic means. The synagogue was the most important institution in a local Palestinian village, and Jairus was the presiding officer of that synagogue which meant that Jairus was the leading citizen of his village. But, being the presiding official of the synagogue, did not protect Jairus from the evil vicissitudes of life. Jairus may have been “super-successful” in the eyes of his world, but this did not insulate him from one of the most devastating tragedy he could experience, the death of his only daughter 

This man fell as Jesus’ feet and begged him. To fall at someone’s feet and to beg him is a sign that you desperately need what that person has to offer

At this point in Jesus’ life, the leaders of the synagogues were not deeply hostile to Jesus. Rather than being hostile to Jesus, this man was desperate for the healing power that lived in Jesus.

-"My little daughter is at the point of death.” “My little daughter, my only daughter, my twelve-year old daughter.” We know how precious all of our children are to us, but when a child is your only child, the potential loss of that child becomes increasingly painful and poignant. Mark tells us the daughter was Jairus’ little daughter; Luke informs us that this was his only daughter and that she was twelve years old and was dying. What tragedy. In Jewish society of that era, a twelve year old girl was on the edge of becoming a young woman who was soon to be married. But Jairus’ little girl was not maturing into her young future but her life was going to be snuffed out prematurely. As human beings, we can imagine Jairus’ inner fear, pain and consuming sadness.

-“Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." The ruler of the synagogue deeply believed that Jesus could heal his little girl. Jairus was on his knees and begging for Jesus to help her, to heal her.

Once again, as we have in previous stories, we encounter great faith. We remember the centurion’s slave/or son who was deeply sick and we remember the deep faith of the centurion that Jesus could heal his slave. This story is another “great faith” story.

-So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

-Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. In the middle of the story of Jairus and his dying daughter, we encounter another story. Here was a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. According to Jewish law (Leviticus 15:25-27), she was declared to be unclean. That means, she was to be cut off from attending the synagogue service of worship and also cut off from her friendship patterns. She was to be ostracized from being part of Jewish society. We also learn from Biblical historians that the Jewish Talmud describes eleven different cures for this common disease. We can imagine the devastation of being declared unclean for twelve years. That means, she had been living in isolation for a long, long time.

-She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. Many people today have similar experiences. That is, many people visit a great variety of doctors, trying to find a cure. Many people today spend much of their money on doctors and become medically poor. Many people today do not get better but worse. In ancient days with ancient medicine, we cannot even begin to imagine the primitiveness of medical treatment and its consuming costs. This woman had spent all of her earnings on medicine and was worse for it.

-She had heard about Jesus, was no better but rather grew worse. 

“She had heard about Jesus.” There are times in life when we hear about Jesus and what Christ can do for us. This woman had heard reports that the power of God in Jesus could heal her. We also need to spread reports to our family, friends and communities about how Jesus has healed us in our situations. When other people may hear those reports, they may come to Christ, the Presence of God, and Christ may heal their lives as well.

-And came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." This woman’s faith was almost superstitious. That is, if she touched his hankie, his garment, the fringe of his garment, his hand, she would be healed. Her faith seems to have been a superstitious faith but that didn’t’ stop Jesus from healing her. Very often, our faith does not measure up to the church’s definition of a high quality of faith. This woman’s faith was not complex, theologically sophisticated, or religiously stylish. Rather this woman’s faith was simple and seemingly superstitious, and that was OK with Jesus.

Focus on the word, “fringe.” This word can also be translated, “tassel,” and in Jesus’ day, there were four tassels at the bottom of the outer garment. Today, those tassels can still be seen on Jewish prayer shawls.

-Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

-Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, In spite of the crushing mob of humanity around Jesus, pushing and pulling and touching him, Jesus knew that this woman had touched the hem of his garment and the power of God had gone out from him to heal this woman. Jesus was filled with the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the healing and compassion, and this power went out from Jesus. We also hear in Acts 1:8 that this power will be given to us as Christians, that we too have the power of God inside of us. No, not a power that is the same as the power in Jesus, but a power similar to Jesus. Within us, there is a power to heal, a power to love, a power to help cure the ills of the world. … Also, many of us feel the same thing from people of enormous giftedness e.g. wanting to touch Mother Theresa’s hand or shake hands with Nelson Mandella or Abraham Lincoln or a host of other famous and gifted people. It is our desire that that special qualities in them would rub off on us.

-Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" William Barclay, in his commentary on the book of Matthew, is at his best when he writes: “When she touched it, it was as if time stood still. It is as if we were looking at a motion picture, a film, and suddenly the picture stopped and left us looking at one scene. The extraordinary and movingly beautiful thing about this scene is that suddenly in the midst of the crowd, Jesus stopped, and for the moment, it seemed that for him that no one but the woman and her need existed.” “For Jesus, no one ever is ever lost in the crowd.”

And God is like that. Barclay goes on to tell a story about the sinking of the unsinkable ship, Titanic, in April of 1912.  The next day, the headline of a famous newspaper was devoted entirely and exclusively to the death of the multimillionaire, John Jacob Astor. At the end of the article, the newspaper almost casually mentioned the other 1800 people who died. The other 1800 were not that important. Such is the attitude of the world and many public media, but not God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is concerned about every single person and no person is lost in the crowd, however unimportant that person may be in the eyes of the world.

-And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, "Who touched me?' " He looked all around to see who had done it.

-But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. We can see this woman. Simon Peter was at his best as he was retelling this story. The woman approached Jesus, shaking with fear and fell down before him and told it all. She told him the whole truth about what she had done.

That is what God wants from us. God wants to tell God the whole truth about ourselves and our need for healing.

 Like Jairus with his dead daughter and the centurion with his sick slave/son, this woman too was desperate and she needed the healing of Jesus. So we see three unique kinds of people and three unique shapes of faith: a Roman centurion, a presiding officer of the synagogue, and a sick woman who was the poorest of the poor of her society. Three stories. Three people. Three different shapes of faith. But all believing that Jesus could bring healing to their lives. 

-He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." As with the other stories, we are again encounter the power of faith in Jesus and how that power of faith is part of a cure.

A question almost always rises: “How about people who have deep faith in Jesus and his healing power and those people were not healed? How do you explain that?” We have dealt with this question many times in our lives, and we deal with it especially during those times when our family member or friend is sick and they are not being healed physically.

Or, maybe that person is yourself or myself who is not being healed. We often ask: “What is wrong with my faith? How come I am not being healed? How come my loved one is not being healed? Do I not believe enough? Do they not believe enough?”

As human beings, we are forever asking those questions, even when we are older and supposedly more mature. It is a condition of our humanity to ask such questions because all human beings ask them at sometime or another.

And we all know the answer. That is, not every one is emotionally or physically healed, regardless of the depth and sincerity of our faith and our prayers. Life does not work that way.

When a person is not healed physically, we ask other prayers e.g. “God, give that person (or myself) the strength and wisdom we need for living with this infirmity. Help us to handle this awful situation. Please God, we need your strength and wisdom to face what life is giving to us.”

-While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" Now, we are back to the original story. We have finished the story within a story, and now we are back to the first plot. Jairus’ daughter. She is dead. Do not bother Jesus anymore because Jairus’ only daughter has died.

-But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." We can imagine Jairus’ fear, for fear is our primary human emotion when we hear the bad news of cancer or the bad news of death. Our hearts explode with fear, panic and being stunned. So it was for Jairus. Yet Jesus said not to fear but only to believe. Once again, we hear Jesus inviting us to “only believe.” To only believe in God, to only believe that there is life after death, to only believe that God is with us in every circumstance, to only believe. Yes, we as human beings want to “only believe” but our reason and instincts seem to feed the doubts in our minds. We know if we “only believed,” life would be better/healthier for us.

-He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. This is the first time in the Jesus Story that we hear about Peter, James and John as being the select, inner group of Jesus’ disciples. Peter was telling the story to John Mark and Peter names himself at the top of the list.

There are several times in the gospel stories that we hear about the “big three” disciples, the important three, the three that seem to have a special position among the twelve disciples.  Peter, James and John are at the Mount of Transfiguration, the Garden of Gethsemane, and here in the privacy of Jairus’ home to see the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

-When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. Flute players were common at ancient ceremonies of grief for both the Jew and the Romans. The wailing music off the flute was associated with death, and Roman law limited the number of flute players at a funeral to ten. In that ancient Jewish culture, there were “professional” wailers and weepers, those people whose position in society was to weep and mourn at funerals. The wailers and weepers were already there, raising a tumultuous fuss.

-When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." When someone dies, we occasionally say that they are sleeping or that they have “passed away’ or  “slept away.” The British scholar, Barclay, says that there is a Greek word that describes death as sleeping, but that Greek word was not used here in this context. Rather, the Greek word for sleeping in this text means just that: “the young girl was sleeping.” Barclay also says that deep/deathly comas were common at this time in history; that burials occurred quickly in the hot Palestinian climate so that the body did not deteriorate; and that people were not infrequently buried alive when they were in a deep coma. For Barclay, this story is an example of “divine diagnosis” as much as it is an example of “divine healing.” Jesus diagnosed the young girl that she was in a deep sleep of a coma, and Jesus raised her from that coma and saved her from being buried alive. This story is an example of Jesus delivering a person from death. Respecting Barclay’s analysis, it seems that the people of Jesus’ day would simply have declared that Jesus raised this young girl from the dead.

-And they laughed at him. Circle, underline, highlight. Yes, there are still people who laugh at Jesus. But I don’t think many. That is, the crowds may laugh at us Christians and the imperfections and sinfulness of our lives, but I sense that people “out there” do not laugh at Jesus. In our western world, Jesus has become a majestic symbol of goodness, spirituality, love and justice, even if people don’t believe in him as the Son of God.

-Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Only the mother, father, and the three disciples were with him in the room where the child was. Jesus was not going to “show off” his healing powers for the crowd who wanted a “Houdini healer from the Holy Land” to put on a show.

-He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" “Tabitha cumi” is an Aramaic expression for “maid” or “little girl.” We find that Jesus also spoke an Aramaic phrase from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Peter would have been the source of this Markan story. We do not know why Matthew and Luke do not include this Aramaic phrase in their version of the event.

-And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). The miracle occurred. The daughter was raised from her coma like sleep, from her death.

-At this they were overcome with amazement. When you experience a miracle in your life, you normally are amazed at the marvelous gift that God has given to you. We are all amazed when we hear stories of God delivering people from the jaws of death.

-He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Persistently, we have heard Jesus try to keep the news of his healing power quiet. Jesus knew that the crowds would follow him for the wrong reason, and soon we will hear about thousands of people clamoring around Jesus for healing, food and other miracles.




+It seems wise to focus on either the story of the call of the first disciple or the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage for twelve years.

+The second story (Jairus’ daughter, sick woman) is the focus on a sermon text for Pentecost 3B.

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