Sermon Summary • God is Love (Matthew 9:9-13)
Tim Tseng • October 2, 2016
Would you invite these people to your home? Drug addict? Drug dealer? Ex-Con? Goth kid? Probably not. We worry that these “bad people” will be bad influences. They are not safe and we want to protect ourselves. If they repent, we’ll may invite them.
Now one of the reasons people are religious is because we believe religion will protect us from evil. Religion categorizes people – good verses bad; saints versus sinners. Religion excludes the bad people. Some accept bad people if they’ve proven that they’ve changed. In other worlds, religion maintains moral standards.
This type of religion creates a false narrative about God: God loves me when I am good. This is a conditional love that most of us have been raised with: “Oh, you ate all your noodles – good girl!” “Don’t draw on the wall – bad boy!” If religion is about behavior modification or regulating morality, it has been very effective. But it teaches us that God loves us only when we are good; God withholds his love when we sin. If we repent, then God loves us again. It is all about whether we do or believe rightly.
Is this the kind of God that Jesus knew? Matthew’s encounter with Jesus reveal a different kind of God. Jesus invites Matthew, a tax collector, to be his disciple. Tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people because they were seen as extortionists for the Roman Empire. Yet, Jesus wanted Matthew to be his disciple! (Matt 9:9) We soon discover that Matthew is a good networker (v. 10). He invites his friends to meet Jesus and his disciples at his home. But it just so happens that Matthew’s friends are considered sinners, the very people most of us would not want in our homes. The Pharisees, the regulator of morality of their day, pointed this out, asking Jesus’ disciples “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” This is a reasonable question if Jesus is about elevating the morality of the Jewish people. Why would he lower himself to eat with sinners? Not a good photo op.
But it was a good opportunity for Jesus to teach us something about God’s love. In verse 12, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus is teaching us the proper way to interpret the Old Testament: Sin is a health condition. The Pharisees thought it was a moral failure. Jesus explains further in verse 13: go and learn what Hosea meant when he quoted God: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ [Hosea 6:6] Indeed, Jesus mission is not “to call the righteous, but sinners.”
What is Jesus doing? Theologically, he is introducing grace and mercy to the religion of the Pharisees. Jesus corrected them by making it very clear that God welcomes sinners. This is Jesus’ narrative, the one we need to adopt in order to truly fall in love with God. Indeed, John reinforces it in John 3:16-17. God’s love is for the whole world, not just those who think they are righteous or morally upright.
This is the reason why I hesitate to label people sinners. You may have noticed that I prefer to talk about healing a broken world. It’s not because I don’t believe that sin is real. It’s because I want to use Jesus’ true understanding of sin. Once we start listing sins and labeling sinners, what happens? We are tempted to get so worked up about labeling what people do as sin that we shun and shame them rather than show them God’s love and mercy. We elevate ourselves above them and forget that we, too, are sinners – a broken reflection of God’s image. We limit God’s love to ourselves. We turn into legalistic Pharisees. Worse of all, we forget the gospel.
Let us start with the vastness of God’s love and mercy. Let us start with the unconditional love that the God that Jesus knows reveals to the world.