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Monday, August 1, 2011

Riffraff Unite!

 9Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, "Come along with me." Matthew stood up and followed him. 10-11Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?"  12-13Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."
(Matthew 9:9-13)

There is very little that Jesus did in his ministry that escaped the "inspecting" eyes of the religious leaders of the day.  The leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) were consumed by their "need" to catch Jesus in some "slip-up" of the Hebrew Law.  Their constant scrutiny of his every move began to become more focused on disproving his authenticity as a "great teacher", "prophet", or possibly even "the Son of God".  I am so glad that Jesus was not deterred in his work because of all their nonsense!

I don't think it was by accident that Jesus passed by the tax collection booth of Matthew.  Matthew was not exactly the kind of guy that most of the Jewish people of that day would associate with.  You see, he had aligned his loyalty with Herod Antipas (the Roman leader) and was collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman government.  Those who pledged their allegiance to the Roman government, especially in the task of getting rich by collecting taxes to support the work of the Roman Empire, were considered filthy outcasts of Jewish society.

Here we find Jesus, not only stopping to talk with the man society labeled as an "outcast", but he invited him into his inner circle of twelve.  To top it off, he made matters worse by taking supper that night at Matthews' house, complete with a compliment of other unsavory folks that were also labeled among the outcasts of Hebrew society.  We can take heart in knowing that Jesus was never more concerned about his reputation than he was about the hearts of individuals that needed his attention!  The same is true today - he is never afraid of the judgment of man that would label his actions of reaching out to the "riffraff" as unacceptable.

Wherever we read about the ministry of Jesus, there is a constant theme of the "riffraff" of society being at his feet.  Society may regard some as worthless or disreputable - Jesus is always focused on each individual's extreme value and their opportunity to regain a "good" reputation through his touch on their lives.  The judgmental in society rejects these as the "trash" of society - Jesus accepts them as the jewels in his crown.  

His pointed answer to the religious leaders who stood in judgment of his actions - it is the sick who need a doctor, not the well.  I don't want to add to the Word of God, but I think we can safely say that it is those who know they are in need of seeing the doctor that benefit the most from the visit with the doctor!  When we see ourselves as "well", we often don't even seek out the doctor's advice or discriminating diagnostic eye.  Instead, we go on our merry way believing that all is well.

The riffraff of society (of which I am pleased to have been labeled!) know their need.  There is an intense awareness of who and what they are.  There is no pretense of being something they are not.  These are the individuals that Jesus surrounded himself with as he made his way along the streets of Capernaum those many years ago - and they are the ones he surrounds himself with today!  Jesus is always interested in what others might reject as worthless or disreputable.  In these, he finds his greatest glory!