Jesus clashed against cultural norms of His time. He worked on the Sabbath, ministering to those in need. He cleansed the temple, driving the moneychangers out of His Father’s house. A great portion of His time was spent simply being with people rather than seeing to the standard religious practices, and his behavior raised the eyebrows of the religious leaders. His willingness to hang out with the despised and rejected (such as tax collectors) was in stark contrast with the attitudes and actions of the Pharisees. In their eyes, He made Himself unclean by being with these outcasts.
His behavior wouldn’t be news to anyone familiar with Christianity, but it does raise an interesting question: Who were the tax collectors? In Christ’s day, they were people like Matthew and Zacchaeus. These men charged local taxpayers too much in order to make extra profit for themselves. They were understandably disliked for their tactics. Yet Jesus took the time to be with them and minister to their needs. He even called Matthew to be among his close circle of disciples. How could he do such a thing? How can He accept those who lie, cheat and steel from others? His actions caused us to pause. He loved those who were despicable and unlovable.
Reflecting on His actions prompts us to reconsider our question, slightly modified: Who are the tax collectors in our day? Who are the hated and unwanted in our society? In a time of political correctness and acceptance of everyone (at least on the surface), the answers won’t be found in the near identification of a specific social, racial or cultural group. No, we must dig deeper to examine our hearts and see where our personal prejudices lie. The Pharisees looked down on those who they considered to be unclean and unworthy. Who do you disparage in your life? Who do you despise and reject?
We must act and extend the love of Jesus to all. This is where our faith becomes real. There may be times when our brothers and sisters in Christ don’t understand our actions but we are called to follow and imitate Jesus in all things. He wrapped his arms of mercy around the tax collectors and sacrificed Himself for them. Through His love, we can do the same.
Father, You are the God of sinners, tax collectors, and harlots—basically people just like me. Allow me to see myself as one in need of grace. Then allow me to offer that grace to others who need it as desperately as I do.