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§ 141. Matthew the Publican called from the Custom-house.—Familial Intercourse of Christ with the Publicans at the Banquet.—The Pharisees blame the Disciples, and Christ justifies them.—“The Sick need the Physician.”

What surprise and offence must the Pharisees have felt when they saw Christ admit even a publican into the immediate circle of his disciples.370370   There are discrepancies in the narrative of the calling of Matthew, not, however, affecting the credibility of the account, which comes from several independent sources, and bears no marks of exaggeration. In Matthew’s Gospel, ix., 9, the person here spoken of is called Matthew, and in x., 3, Matthew the publican is mentioned among the Apostles; but in Luke, v., 27; Mark, ii., 14, he is called Levi. Mark appears to be more definite than the others, calling him the son of Alpheus, which does not look like a fanciful designation. The difficulty might be overcome by supposing (what was not uncommon among the Jews that the same man was designated in the one case by the name, in the other by the surname. An objection to this (though not decisive) is the fact that in the list of Apostles given in Matt., x., 3, he is called merely Matthew the publican, with no surname, and in the lists given by Mark and Luke, Matthew, simply, with no surname; and, farther, that an old tradition existed, which discriminated Matthew and Levi, and named the latter, in addition, among the prominent heralds of the Gospel. (Heracleon, in Clem. Alex., Strom., 1. iv., c. xi.) On this ground we might admit, with Sieffert, that the names of two persons, i. e., of the Apostle Matthew, and some other who had been admitted, at least, among the Seventy, had been confounded together. But as Matthew himself was the original source of the materials of the Gospel which bears his name (materials arranged, perhaps, by another hand), we cannot attribute the confusion to this Gospel. It is, at the same time, possible that the giver of the feast (Luke, v., 29), Levi, was another rich publican, a friend of the publican Matthew, who afterward also attached himself to Jesus; especially as nothing is said in Matt., ix., 10, about a great feast being given at the house of Matthew; and that thus the name of Matthew, whose call to the ministry occasioned the feast, and that of Levi, the host, in whose life it made an epoch, and who afterward became known as a preacher of the Gospel, were confounded together.

As he was walking one day along the shore of the lake,371371   Mark, ii., 13. he saw a publican sitting in his toll-booth, named Matthew; a man who had doubtless, like Peter, received many impressions from Christ before, and was thereby prepared to renounce the world at his bidding. Jesus, with a voice that could not be resisted, said unto him, “Follow me.” Matthew understood the call, and did not hesitate to follow, at any cost, Him who had so powerfully attracted his heart. He left his business, rejoicing that Christ was willing to take him into his closer fellow ship. This decisive event was celebrated by a great entertainment,372372   Luke, v., 29. intended also, perhaps, as a farewell feast to his old business associates. 214Christ, in whose honour the entertainment was given, did not disdain this token of grateful love, but took his place at the feast with a set of men who were regarded as the scum of the people, but to whom his saving influences were to be brought nigh.

Shortly after, some of the Pharisees took the disciples to task for their free and (as they thought) unspiritual mode of life, in eating and drinking with degraded sinners and tax-gatherers. It is evident that the attack was intended for Christ, though they hesitated, as yet, to assault him openly. He, therefore, took the matter up personally, and justified his conduct by saying, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Indicating that he sought, rather than avoided, degraded sinners, because they, precisely, stood most in need of his healing aid, and were most likely, from a sense of need, to receive it willingly.

But he certainly did not mean to say that he came to save only those who were sunken in vice. He was far, also, from meaning, that though all have need of him, all have not the same need of him; that any were excluded from the number of the “sick,” who needed him as a “physician.” But he taught that as he had come as a physician for the sick, he could help only those who, as sick persons, sought healing at his hands. He sought the tax-gatherers rather than the Pharisees, because the latter, deeming themselves spiritually sound, had no disposition to receive that which he came to impart. Undoubtedly, he did not mean to grant that they were sound, or less diseased than the publicans.

Indeed, he pointed out their peculiar disease by saying to them, “Go ye, and learn what that meaneth, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.’”373373   Matt., ix., 13; Hos., vi., 6. On the one hand, by this quotation, he pointed out the feeling that inspired his own conduct, the love which is the fulfilling of the law; and, on the other, he indicated their fundamental error of making religion an outward thing, while they totally lacked the soul of genuine piety. This was to convince them that they themselves were sick and needed the physician. Dropping the figure, he gave them the same thought in plain terms: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

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