Pursue compassion not religious activity

Matthew 9:9-17

Jerry A Collins




v                 What is required if we are going to follow Jesus?

v                 What is the significance of compassion?

v                 What is the significance of old and new wineskins?


One of the mistakes we make is falling on the side of what more easily makes us look good. We can create a religiously pious set of platitudes and feel okay about ourselves spiritually. It is easier to follow a religious regimen and assume that following this makes me okay with others as well as God. It is the harder things of our spiritual responsibilities that gets squeezed, replaced, ignored. Things like discipling others, studying the Word, taking up our cross, denying ourselves, being compassionate, praying without ceasing—these things harder to do, get marginalized. God requires that which is harder to give as an appropriate expression of our devotion to Him and His will. One point from the following stories is this very idea. The response of Matthew in contrast to the Pharisees is one way Matthew illustrates the kind of commitment Jesus expects from us.


Simple obedience 9-10 Matthew records his own conversion. He is sitting in a tax office near Capernaum. Jesus sees him and says follow me. The fact that Matthew was a tax man is significant for the next scene in two ways. (1) Matthew’s career as a tax collector made him a questionable person. No-one likes tax collectors but someone has to do it. So he is involved in a nasty business especially because he was working for the enemy, Rome (Lk 23:2) and also the reputation for extortion as a tax collector (grouped with swindlers, unjust, adulterers Lk 18:11; Gentiles Mt 18:17; harlots Mt 21:31-32; and here with sinners). (2) That Jesus would associate with these is remarkable given the religious temperature of His day. Jesus initiates this encounter and is not only friendly with Matthew but invites Him into an intimate association as a follower of Jesus. Jesus wants to identify with Matthew’s kind. Jesus does not legitimatize the religious activity and priorities around Him. Matthew responds in simple obedience accepts the invitation leaving everything behind according to Luke. The call of Jesus has taken priority over the old profession.

Invited to dinner 10-11 Matthew holds a feast with Jesus as the honored guest. Matthew takes his call seriously and opens up his home to his friends to introduce them to Jesus. A table is a place where spiritual points are made and fellowship occurs. What about the nature of eating together? It can be a time usually face each other, sit much closer where we are usually accepted and expected. Talking is easy and natural. You can change the subject abruptly not usual for other types of conversation allowing others to share about anything. Lots of mealtimes in the Bible (Abe with 2 companions Gen 18:1-18; Jacob and Laban Gen 31:54; Joseph and Bros Gen 34:32; Moses and Jethro Ex 18:12; Boaz and Ruth in Ruth 2:14; Jesus and disciples Lk 22; Jn 21). The issue tho is not the party but who is invited. Matthew says tax-gatherers and sinners—the way the Pharisees described them. How could Jesus, the disciples teacher—the one influencing them—be having this kind of intimate association with these? The turnout is not the upper crust of society for sure. But Jesus is reclining with these carrying out in this context His ministry to the spiritually needy. While doing so he also is offending the legalistic, judgmental, hypocritical, self-righteousness of the Pharisees. They would have never shared a meal with such kind. Luke says they were grumbling about this episode—that is registering complaints about Jesus relationship with outsiders. The Pharisees complaint was with Jesus but they also questioned anyone who had such associations. The charge was not just contact but fellowship with sinners.

Jesus responds 12-13 Their criticism is refuted by first by a statement about the nature of Jesus mission vs 12. Like a doctor he has come to assist the sick not the healthy. Those who have a need—like the sinners, not those who think they do not—like the Pharisees. This does not endorse the Pharisees righteousness but is simply spoken from their perspective—that is, what they really think. They are not open to the physicians diagnosis and so cannot recognize their need to be treated. But why? Jesus tells them by quoting Hosea 6:6. What they needed to learn is that God desires a heart of compassion not a system of religious sacrifice and activity that fooled you into believing that following that meant feeling good about yourself  instead of desperate for God. Jesus audience ought to be delighted rather than upset that this riff-raff of society are following Him and willing to listen to Him. In today’s terms He might say I desire devotion and not hymn-singing, meetings, sermons, prayer rituals, and any religious regimen that you feel makes you okay but also avoids the deeper, harder, path of compassion, sacrifice and devotion to me and my will for you.


The question 14 Here is an encounter between differing religious lifestyles. John’s disciples and Pharisees followers agree and practice fasting. But Jesus’ disciples do not. Fasting was a central issue of their religious practices. You fasted to have focused time with God.

Jesus defends disciples 15 He does this with imagery of a wedding. Weddings are times of joy and of course the attendants are not going to be distressed and fast while he is present. This picture is of Jesus  alludes to the end drawing near with His crucifixion. His ministry has been characterized as a joyful one not mourning. The coming days show a different period is approaching. Then the groom will be taken from the disciples and fasting will be appropriate. This is a grim picture—a groom is removed from the scene of a wedding—which hints at the pain of parting between Jesus and His disciples.

Jesus explains 16-17 Here is the reason for all the parting. Jesus is bringing something brand new.

(1) Jesus way and traditions way cannot be mixed without significantly damaging the new making matters even worse 16. The OT approach cannot be mixed with this new way to approach God (Hebrews and Acts 15ff).

(2) The gospel cannot be contained within Judaism without destroying both. 17a. The tragic waste is clear. The wineskins burst—the wine pours out—the wine is ruined. The old and new ways cannot be mixed without harm to both.

(3) Jesus teaching will not survive by making it conform to old ways and traditions of OT 17b. Re-judaizing Christianity misses the newness of what Jesus brings. New ways must have new containers. The gospel is the new way.

1. Pursue compassion—a loyal love for God based on a knowledge of God which leads you to feeling desperate for God. Do not pursue religion which makes you feel okay about yourself and your contribution.

2. In this age God is doing a new thing based on faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That should never be substituted by traditions that allow me to pay for it