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Jesus Calls Levi

13 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17When 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.”

The Question about Fasting

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

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Christ among Publicans and Sinners.

13 And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.   14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.   15 And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.   16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?   17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Here is,

I. Christ preaching by the sea-side (v. 13), whither he went for room, because he found, upon second trial, no house or street large enough to contain his auditory; but upon the strand there might come as many as would. It should seem by this, that our Lord Jesus had a strong voice, and could and did speak loud; for wisdom crieth without in the places of concourse. Wherever he goes, though it be to the sea-side, multitudes resort to him. Wherever the doctrine of Christ is faithfully preached, though it be driven into corners or into deserts, we must follow it.

II. His calling Levi; the same with Matthew, who had a place in the custom-house at Capernaum, from which he was denominated a publican; his place fixed him by the water-side, and thither Christ went to meet with him, and to give him an effectual call. This Levi is here said to be the son of Alpheus or Cleophas, husband to that Mary who was sister or near kinswoman to the virgin Mary and if so, he was own brother to James the less, and Jude, and Simon the Canaanite, so that there were four brothers of them apostles, It is probable that Matthew was but a loose extravagant young man, or else, being a Jew, he would never have been a publican. However, Christ called him to follow him. Paul, though a Pharisee, had been one of the chief of sinners, and yet was called to be an apostle. With God, through Christ, there is mercy to pardon the greatest sins, and grace to sanctify the greatest sinners. Matthew, that had been a publican, became an evangelist, the first that put pen to paper, and the fullest in writing the life of Christ. Great sin and scandal before conversion, are no bar to great gifts, graces, and advancements, after; nay, God may be the more glorified. Christ prevented him with this call; in bodily cures, ordinarily, he was sought unto, but in these spiritual cures, he was found of them that sought him not. For this is the great evil and peril of the disease of sin, that those who are under it, desire not to be made whole.

III. His familiar converse with publicans and sinners, v. 15. We are here told, 1. That Christ sat at meat in Levi's house, who invited him and his disciples to the farewell-feast he made to his friends, when he left all to attend on Christ: such a feast he made, as Elisha did (1 Kings xix. 21), to show, not only with what cheerfulness in himself, but with what thankfulness to God, he quitted all, in compliance with Christ's call. Fitly did he make the day of his espousals to Christ a festival day. This was also to testify his respect to Christ, and the grateful sense he had of his kindness, in snatching him from the receipt of custom as a brand out of the burning. 2. That many publicans and sinners sat with Christ in Levi's house (for there were many belonging to that custom-house); and they followed him. They followed Levi; so some understand it, supposing that, like Zaccheus, he was chief among the publicans, and was rich; and for that reason, the inferior sort of them attended him for what they could get. I rather take it, that they followed Jesus because of the report they had heard of him. They did not for conscience-sake leave all to follow him, but for curiosity-sake they came to Levi's feast, to see him; whatever brought them thither, they were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. The publicans are here and elsewhere ranked with sinners, the worst of sinners. (1.) Because commonly they were such; so general were the corruptions in the execution of that office, oppressing, exacting, and taking bribes or fees to extortion, and accusing falsely, Luke iii. 13, 14. A faithful fair-dealing publican was so rare, even at Rome, that one Sabinus, who kept a clean reputation in that office, was, after his death, honoured with this inscription, Kalos telonesantiHere lies an honest publican. (2.) Because the Jews had a particular antipathy to them and their office, as an affront to the liberty of their nation and a badge of their slavery, and therefore put them into an ill name, and thought it scandalous to be seen in their company. Such as these our blessed Lord was pleased to converse with, when he appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh.

IV. The offence which the scribes and Pharisees took at this, v. 16. They would not come to hear him preach, which they might have been convinced the edified by; but they would come themselves to see him sit with publicans and sinners, which they would be provoked by. They endeavoured to put the disciples out of conceit with their Master, as a man not of such sanctity and severe morals as became his character; and therefore put the question to them. How is it, that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? Note, It is no new thing for that which is both well-done, and well-designed, to be misrepresented, and turned to the reproach of the wisest and best of men.

V. Christ's justification of himself in it, v. 17. He stood to what he did, and would not withdraw, though the Pharisees were offended, as Peter afterwards did, Gal. ii. 12. Note, Those are too tender of their own good name, who, to preserve it with some nice people, will decline a good work. Christ would not do so. They thought the publicans were to be hated. "No," saith Christ, "they are to be pitied, they are sick and need a physician; they are sinners, and need a Saviour." They thought Christ's character should separate him from them; "No," saith Christ, "my commission directs me to them; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. If the world had been righteous, there had been no occasion for my coming, either to preach repentance, or to purchase remission. It is to a sinful world that I am sent, and therefore my business lies most with those that are the greatest sinners in it." Or thus; "I am not come to call the righteous, the proud Pharisees that think themselves righteous, that ask, Wherein shall we return? (Mal. iii. 7), Of what shall we repent? But poor publicans, that own themselves to be sinners, and are glad to be invited and encouraged to repent." It is good dealing with those that there is hope of; now there is more hope of a fool than of one that is wise in his own conceit, Prov. xxvi. 12.

The Hypocritical Rigour of the Pharisees.

18 And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?   19 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.   20 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.   21 No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse.   22 And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.   23 And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.   24 And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?   25 And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?   26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the showbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?   27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:   28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

Christ had been put to justify himself in conversing with publicans and sinners: here he is put to justify his disciples; and in what they do according to his will he will justify them, and bear them out.

I. He justifies them in their not fasting, which was turned to their reproach by the Pharisees. Why do the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast? They used to fast, the Pharisees fasted twice in the week (Luke xviii. 12), and probably the disciples of John did so too; and, it should seem, this very day, when Christ and his disciples were feasting in Levi's house, was their fast-day, for the word is nesteuousithey do fast, or are fasting, which aggravated the offence. Thus apt are strict professors to make their own practice a standard, and to censure and condemn all that do not fully come up to it. They invidiously suggest that if Christ went among sinners to do them good, as he had pleaded, yet the disciples went to indulge their appetites, for they never knew what it was to fast, or to deny themselves. Note, Ill-will always suspects the worst.

Two things Christ pleads in excuse of his disciples not fasting.

1. That these were easy days with them, and fasting was not so seasonable now as it would be hereafter, v. 19, 20. There is a time for all things. Those that enter into the married state, must expect care and trouble in the flesh, and yet, during the nuptial solemnity, they are merry, and think it becomes them to be so; it was very absurd for Samson's bride to weep before him, during the days that the feast lasted, Judg. xiv. 17. Christ and his disciples were but newly married, the bridegroom was yet with them, the nuptials were yet in the celebrating (Matthew's particularly); when the bridegroom should be removed from them to the far country, about his business, then would be a proper time to sit as a widow, in solitude and fasting.

2. That these were early days with them, and they were not so able for the severe exercises of religion as hereafter they would be. The Pharisees had long accustomed themselves to such austerities; and John Baptist himself came neither eating nor drinking. His disciples from the first inured themselves to hardships, and thus found it easier to bear strict and frequent fasting, but it was not so with Christ's disciples; their Master came eating and drinking, and had not bred them up to the difficult services of religion as yet, for it was all in good time. To put them upon such frequent fasting at first, would be a discouragement to them, and perhaps drive them off from following Christ; it would be of as ill consequence as putting new wine into old casks, or sewing new cloth to that which is worn thin and threadbare, v. 21, 22. Note, God graciously considers the frame of young Christians, that are weak and tender, and so must we; nor must we expect more than the work of the day in its day, and that day according to the strength, because it is not in our hands to give strength according to the day. Many contract an antipathy to some kind of food, otherwise good, by being surfeited with it when they are young; so, many entertain prejudices against the exercises of devotion by being burthened with them, and made to serve with an offering, at their setting out. Weak Christians must take heed of over-tasking themselves, and of making the yoke of Christ otherwise than as it is, easy, and sweet, and pleasant.

II. He justifies them in plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath day, which, I will warrant you, a disciples of the Pharisees would not dare to have done; for it was contrary to an express tradition of their elders. In this instance, as in that before, they reflect upon the discipline of Christ's school, as if it were not so strict as that of theirs: so common it is for those who deny the power of godliness, to be jealous for the form, and censorious of those who affect not their form.

Observe, 1. What a poor breakfast Christ's disciples had on a sabbath-day morning, when they were going to church (v. 23); they plucked the ears of corn, and that was the best they had. They were so intent upon spiritual dainties, that they forgot even their necessary food; and the word of Christ was to them instead of that; and their zeal for it even ate them up. The Jews made it a piece of religion, to eat dainty food on sabbath days, but the disciples were content with any thing.

2. How even this was grudged them by the Pharisees, upon supposition that it was not lawful to pluck the ears of corn on the sabbath day, that that was as much a servile work as reaping (v. 24); Why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? Note, If Christ's disciples do that which is unlawful, Christ will be reflected upon, and upbraided with it, as he was here, and dishonour will redound to his name. It is observable, that when the Pharisees thought Christ did amiss, they told the disciples (v. 16); and now when they thought the disciples did amiss, they spoke to Christ, as make-bates, that did what they could to sow discord between Christ and his disciples, and make a breach in the family.

3. How Christ defended them in what they did.

(1.) By example. They had a good precedent for it in David's eating the show-bread, when he was hungry, and there was no other bread to be had (v. 25, 26); Have ye never read? Note, Many of our mistakes would be rectified, and our unjust censures of others corrected, if we would but recollect what we have read in the scripture; appeals to that are most convincing. "You have read that David, the man after God's own heart, when he was hungry, made no difficulty of eating the show-bread, which by the law none might eat of but the priests and their families." Note, Ritual observances must give way to moral obligations; and that may be done in a case of necessity, which otherwise may not be done. This, it is said, David did in the days of Abiathar the High-Priest; or just before the days of Abiathar, who immediately succeeded Abimelech his father in the pontificate, and, it is probable, was at that time his father's deputy, or assistant, in the office; and he it was that escaped the massacre, and brought the ephod to David.

(2.) By argument. To reconcile them to the disciples' plucking the ears of corn, let them consider,

[1.] Whom the sabbath was made for (v. 27); it was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. This we had not in Matthew. The sabbath is a sacred and divine institution; but we must receive and embrace it as a privilege and a benefit, not as a task and a drudgery. First, God never designed it to be an imposition upon us, and therefore we must not make it so to ourselves. Man was not made for the sabbath, for he was made a day before the sabbath was instituted. Man was made for God, and for his honour and service, and he just rather die than deny him; but he was not made for the sabbath, so as to be tied up by the law of it, from that which is necessary to the support of his life. Secondly, God did design it to be an advantage to us, and so we must make it, and improve it. He made if for man. 1. He had some regard to our bodies in the institution, that they might rest, and not be tired out with the constant business of this world (Deut. v. 14); that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest. Now he that intended the sabbath-rest for the repose of our bodies, certainly never intended it should restrain us, in a case of necessity, from fetching in the necessary supports of the body; it must be construed so as not to contradict itself—for edification, and not for destruction. 2. He had much more regard to our souls. The sabbath was made a day of rest, only in order to its being a day of holy work, a day of communion with God, a day of praise and thanksgiving; and the rest from worldly business is therefore necessary, that we may closely apply ourselves to this work, and spend the whole time in it, in public and in private; but then time is allowed us for that which is necessary to the fitting of our bodies for the service of our souls in God's service, and the enabling of them to keep pace with them in that work. See here, (1.) What a good Master we serve, all whose institutions are for our own benefit, and if we be so wise as to observe them, we are wise for ourselves; it is not he, but we, that are gainers by our service. (2.) What we should aim at in our sabbath work, even the good of our own souls. If the sabbath was made for man, we should then ask ourselves at night, "What am I the better for this sabbath day?" (3.) What care we ought to take not to make those exercises of religion burthens to ourselves or others, which God ordained to be blessings; neither adding to the command by unreasonable strictness, nor indulging those corruptions which are adverse to the command, for thereby we make those devout exercises a penance to ourselves, which otherwise would be a pleasure.

[2.] Whom the sabbath was made by (v. 28); "The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath; and therefore he will not see the kind intentions of the institution of it frustrated by your impositions." Note, The sabbath days are days of the Son of man; he is the Lord of the day, and to his honour it must be observed; by him God made the worlds, and so it was by him that the sabbath was first instituted; by him God gave the law at mount Sinai, and so the fourth commandment was his law; and that little alteration that was shortly to be made, by the shifting of it one day forward to the first day of the week, was to be in remembrance of his resurrection, and therefore the Christian sabbath was to be called the Lord's day (Rev. i. 10), the Lord Christ's day; and the Son of man, Christ, as Mediator, is always to be looked upon as Lord of the sabbath. This argument he largely insists upon in his own justification, when he was charged with having broken the sabbath, John v. 16.