Tax collectors were extortionists, and considered traitors because of their collaboration with the Roman authorities. Matthew was despised by many, but not by Jesus. Matthew left his post, and followed him. Jesus made such an impact on Matthew, that he invited his tax collector acquaintances and other sinning friends over for dinner to meet him. The Pharisees approached the disciples, to discredit Jesus and asked Why does your teacher, if he is so good and righteous, eat with these people? The Pharisees did not ask Jesus himself, but he overheard them. Jesus responded with what was probably a common proverb. The spiritually healthy did not need Jesus, but the spiritually sick. Jesus told them to go a learn what a verse of scripture meant, which was Hosea 6:6. Now, the Pharisees were a proud sect. They were learned men; they knew scripture. But Jesus did not say to go learn it, but to learn what it meant– and he said this, in front of sinners– Sinners that the Pharisees thought were unworthy to have dinner with. This was embarrassing for the Pharisees.
Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6, which says I desire mercy, not sacrifice. This does to mean that God didn’t require sacrifice, and we know this because Christ was the final sacrifice. It means that God desires people to do what is good, over a vain sacrifice. The Pharisees were great at doing what was good for show, but when it came to offering true mercy they were not. They should have been guiding and helping these sinners to God, but instead, they were judging them.
Jesus made a simple case for his relationship with sinners. He said, I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners. The Pharisees considered themselves righteous, but Jesus had rightly called them hypocrites for merely displaying an prideful outward righteousness. For Jesus to say he had not come to call the righteous, may have meant that he could not call the proud self-righteous, who considered themselves above the need for forgiveness, and above sinners. This is a possibility, because Christ said only the humble can enter the kingdom of heaven(18:1-5).
John the Baptist was in prison at this point. His disciples followed his example by fasting in repentance. Pharisees fasted superstitiously and for show. We know that Jesus spoke against fasting hypocritically like the Pharisees, and the disciples were to imitate Christ, not John. Jesus called himself the “bridegroom” for the first time here, a reference the marriage between Christ and his church. Weddings were festive times, no one fasted. Yet, there would be a time, when Jesus would depart, and it would be a time of mourning.
Jesus came to institute a new covenant, one that would not fit into the old covenant. This new covenant overrides the old. We can witness the issues with this in the Book of Acts when Paul confronts the Jewish Sect on behalf of the Gentiles concerning the rite of circumcision(Acts 15:1-21).
Not all Pharisees were opposed to Jesus. For instance, one Pharisee, Nicodemus, went to see Jesus, to learn more about the kingdom of heaven. Something Jesus said drew Nicodemus to Christ, but Nicodemus had to humble himself to meet Jesus, and acknowledge his own need for redemption (John 3:1-21).
Matthew left his post, his old way of life to follow Christ. This sinner never returned to his old profession, but followed Jesus and authored a gospel. Matthew was a hated sinful man, loved by Jesus and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Christ loves all sinners. Our guilt of sin should never keep us from following Christ, who is more than willing to sit and eat with all of us sinners. He will give us mercy and forgiveness so that we, like Matthew, can leave our old lives behind us and be renewed. Let us not sit back and judge, but reach out for the good of the kingdom, following his example. We who have taken the new covenant offered by Christ, should share it with others, so those who feel outcast, or tortured by guilt of sin and the hate of the self righteous, can know they have a friend and redeemer in Jesus Christ.