Who are the Sinners Who Eat with Jesus? – Matthew 9:10

After calling Matthew to follow him, Jesus “reclined at the table in the house.” Since Jesus is the guest of honor at a festive meal shared with other tax collectors and “sinners,” the Pharisees question Jesus’s disciples about sharing food with these sorts of people.

Jesus Eating with Sinners

In Matthew 9;10 it is simply “the house,” probably referring to Peter’s house, but Mark has “his house,” making it at least possible this occurs at Matthew’s house.  Luke 5:29 makes it clear the meal took place at Levi’s house. The usual way of reading this story is Matthew was so overwhelmed with Jesus that he hosted a rich banquet in his home and invited all his friends to come and hear Jesus. In this scenario, Jesus is the guest of honor at a festive meal in the home of a Jewish man who was hated “as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic.” If Matthew intended the reader to understand this as Peter’s house in Capernaum, then Jesus is the host of this meal rather than Matthew. This is significant because Jesus is opening his home to tax-collectors and sinners and sharing his food with them. This is the main reason the Pharisees question the disciples.

What makes these people sinners? In the Law one could be in a state of sinfulness without committing what Christians consider sins. Nolland suggests these are “unsavory types” who life on the edges of respectable society (Matthew, 386). However, if Matthew was indeed a tax-farmer, then he may have earned a reputation “as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic.” Even if he was just a worker in a toll both, he was in constant contact with the Romans and would have been unclean by contact.

Like Zacchaeus in Luke 19, a tax collector meets Jesus, follows him and then Jesus shares a meal with him.

The Pharisees ask about Jesus’s practice of sharing food with sinners (Matthew 9:11). The Pharisees would not enter the house of a tax collector nor share food with him because they are unclean.

In the previous story the scribes questioned Jesus’s authority to forgive sin. Here it is the Pharisees who wonder how Jesus can eat with people who are obviously still in their sins. From Jesus’s perspective, they are not sinful anymore because he has forgiven them. From the perspective of the Pharisees, they are still sinful because they are still tax collectors and other “unsavory types.”

By way of analogy, if a scary looking biker with tattoos and piercings (probably named “Porkchop”) accepts Christ as savior and comes to church for the first time, people might look at him, judge his outer appearance and assume he is still in his sins. Since the Pharisees see Jesus eating with some people and know they are sinners, these people are known by sight at people on the fringe of society. This might be as simple as “oh look, there is Matthew, the tax collector,” or it might be the case the people look like sinners to the proper Pharisee.

Since Jesus seems to be eating with a number of people he is possibly in the courtyard of the house. The little homes in Capernaum would not have formal dining rooms like a Roman villa (or a modern home); even if Matthew was a wealthy tax farmer (which he probably was not), his home would still not be that large. The only way for a crowd to eat together is to gather outdoors.

Perhaps some disciples were not eating with Jesus and were on the fringe of the gathering listening to Jesus. Maybe two or three Pharisees see the gathering and see Jesus as the honored guest among a group of people they consider to be sinners and wonder how Jesus could eat with such people.

The question assumes Jesus would behave like a Pharisee with respect to food traditions. For the Pharisee, contact with an unclean person would communicate that uncleanliness. If the sinner touched the food, then the food itself would be considered unclean. In their defense, they were trying to obey the commands God gave through Moses and were willing to think through every possible situation that might render them unclean. This is no different than Christians asking questions about what God would think of any new situation (can a Christian go to the movies?)

In the ancient world, to share the table with another person made statement about yourself and about your guest. People wanted to share a meal with someone who was at least in the same social circle; to be invited to a meal by an elite citizen was indeed an honor. On the other hand, there is no way an elite citizen would invite people from the lower classes to share a meal with them. A Pharisee would only eat with people they were sure were ceremonially clean, and the people Jesus is eating with are clearly are not even close!

As with the inner thoughts of the scribes in the previous story, Jesus hears what the Pharisees are discussing with his disciples and responds directly to them.

9 thoughts on “Who are the Sinners Who Eat with Jesus? – Matthew 9:10

  1. The dinner that Jesus attends, along with tax collectors, can be seen as a foreshadowing of what we are to do as modern Christians in our world. The idea of being a “tax collector” was different back then than what it is today. Today we pay our taxes to a financial institution that is more often than not trustworthy when taking tax out of our earnings. Tax collectors in the time of Jesus were a lot sneakier. Dr. Long explains in the blog post that these tax collectors were, “greedy, self-serving, and parasitic.” While these accusations, mainly coming from the Pharisees, were probably not ill-claimed; Jesus sets the example that just because these people are deemed “unclean” does not mean they cannot be cleaned in the eyes of God and change their ways. The Pharisees were continually doubtful of Jesus’ choice to surround himself with these types of people and the authority He claimed to have to forgive them of their sins. This theme, unfortunately for the higher religious powers, continued on until Jesus’ death. Today as Christians after reading this blog post I would encourage us as a church to take this lesson into higher consideration. Often times we can get caught up in our own faith and start to judge those around us. It is not our duty to judge anyone. We are to love the sinner and hate the sin.

  2. This blog post does a great job of highlighting one of the key things that was wrong with how the pharisees went about their lives. They basically take a stance of once someone has chosen a bad path (to them this would be a tax collector, or something else that would make them unclean in their eyes) they are not able to be brought back to cleanliness. This super close-minded thinking is one of the main things that makes them so short sighted in my opinion. Jesus made sure to give us many examples in the bible of him eating, healing, and being with people who were considered outsiders in this time period, and I believe he did this in order to show us today that we need to not only speak about him and his word with normal people who are non-believers, but also people who are even farther away from God, who are doing some form of evil. We as Christians need to take this message and apply it to our own lives. God does not care what a person has done in his past, or even what he is doing right now, all that he cares about is changing that person’s heart in the right now, and making him a believer of Christ, and in doing so, hope that he will change his ways and lead a lifestyle that can benefit others.

  3. In this blog post we immediately want to answer this question by saying Jesus sat and ate with sinners. Although he did do thisI think we should look at the connection from then to now. Back then a tax keeper was literally nothing, bottom of the barrel and sneaky. Today we work for a job and money is taken out by tax collectors. We have no connection to these tax collectors, we just see on a check that a portion of our money is taken away. Tax collectors back then were very sneaky and betrayed the trust of Jesus. Shifting from this, Long talks about Matthew 9:11 which talks about the Pharisees asking how Jesus could share food with sinners. How can Jesus sit down with a bunch of “snakes”? Well Jesus was a forgiving man who saw the goodness in people. He believed that people could be cleansed from their sins. Long also points out the scenario of the biker with tattoos giving their life to Christ. How would you look at them? We would judge them because that’s what we do. Are you any more saved or clean than that person because you have no tattoos? This is a whole other argument that goes around in churches.

  4. I wonder what made the Pharisees assume that Jesus would follow their practices. Did they hear his teaching, acknowledge in their hearts that it was good and therefore assume He would adhere to what they considered the law? I wonder what their relationship was with Jesus before he started stepping on their toes by calling out their hypocrisy.
    In my opinion Jesus was eating at Matthew’s house and was the guest of honor. Since the gospel of Matthew is the only one that leaves any ambiguity in the matter, and it says “his” which could easily refer to Matthew and Luke tells us it was Levi which is another name for Matthew. I really appreciate the connection between the repulsion of the Pharisees and Jesus’s acceptance of the sinners. Jesus had forgiven them and because He is God, God had forgiven then and they were no longer sinners. The Pharisees assumed they knew what was up but they didn’t. I think the Church I have attended struggle with this hypocrisy as well. We think we know what is up but we really don’t and we make wrong judgments.

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