Around ten years ago, I picked up two prostitutes at a gas station. Reading that, I’m sure you have certain expectations about my reasons for doing so. But that wasn’t it.
For one thing, naiveté still had me rather tightly in those days. The realization of whom I had picked up dawned on me only halfway to their hotel. You see, I thought they were two women who’d simply been stranded after a night out. Never mind they were wearing short skirts, deep-cut tops, and more makeup than should be possible. I wanted to be a hero. I saw that as my shot.
The realization came as we talked—how they got there in particular. What I hadn’t bargained for was hearing about the person behind the label. Prostitutes are often defined by their job, not by their humanity. Before that car ride, I’d categorized a whole segment of the population into something almost less than human.
So it was with tax collectors in Jesus’ day. They weren’t human—they were tax collectors. They weren’t even sinners. They had their own special category beyond mere sinner: sinners and tax collectors (or flipped in most cases). Perhaps Matthew—one of those worse-than-sinners—even believed that himself.
“Follow me.” Those were probably the sweetest words Matthew had ever heard. He got so excited he threw a party so that other “sinners and tax collectors” could meet Jesus. In fact, God used an “and” (a tax collector) to write a book of the Bible.
Each of us has an “and” (or more than one), a class or group we consider the worst offenders, those too evil to love or minister to. The American church in particular has focused on homosexuals as the “and.” And strippers. And legalists. And … you get the point. Put simply, we use the and to separate ourselves—to make ourselves distinct.
Jesus came to call those who realized they were sick. Most people do, but they don’t always hear that Jesus wants them to follow Him.