In v9-11, we have a third pairing of faith and an obstacle of faith.
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.
How is faith pictured here? Matthew was sitting at the tax collector’s booth. That was his livelihood. That was his source of income. He was probably well off financially. And Jesus told Matthew, follow me. And Matthew heard that. He got up and followed. That’s faith. Leaving behind his family, his friends, his finances and following Jesus. Jesus didn’t say, follow me to this city and then we’re going to go over to that city. There was no blueprint. It was an open invitation to follow him into an unknown future. In order to follow, Matthew had to surrender his plans, his agenda, and step out in faith.
Matthew just met Jesus. He was converted. He became a born-again Christ follower. And what do people who are just converted do? They throw a party and invite their friends so that their friends can meet the same Jesus who changed them.
This would be a great testimony. A great ending to a life transformed. But the story doesn’t end in v10. We read in v11–
11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
I told you. The gospels are teeming with religious people who oppose Jesus time and time again. Before it was blasphemy, now it’s an issue of who Jesus is dining with. Who he keeps company with during meals.
The Pharisees had a notion that sin was external and behavioral. They saw themselves as way up there, holier than thou. They never cursed in their lives, never swore, never committed a crime. They were clean on the outside. They lacked faith because they were fine. They were fine with their religion and their laws and their self-generated, self-righteousness. It’s those guys way down there, the tax collectors, those guys are the “sinners.”
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in v12-13.
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I imagine that Jesus turned and looked right at the Pharisees as he said those verses. You think you are healthy. You think your sacrifices are good enough. You think your religion can save. Only those who recognize their sickness and their need for mercy will be saved. Jesus desires mercy, not sacrifice. And one who has received the mercy of God will be merciful toward others. It works both ways.
Next, in v14, Jesus is asked a question about fasting.
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
It’s hard to discern the intent behind this question. Were they being critical? Were they annoyed by Jesus’ seeming lack of respect for tradition. When the Pharisees asked John’s disciples about Jesus and his non-fasting, I’m sure they asked in a critical way. John’s disciples seem to be asking because they are genuinely confused.
We read Jesus’ answer in v15-17–
15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. 16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Jesus point is this. You had your traditions. You had a certain way of doing things. John’s disciples were trained to fast. That’s what they knew. There is nothing wrong with tradition, but don’t keep doing things just for tradition’s sake. Know why you used to fast. Here is the reason you should fast in v15. You fast when the bridegroom is away. But right now, Jesus is with them so there is no need. For us, we fast when our bridegroom, Jesus, is distant, when we have moved far from him, that’s when we should fast.
Tradition is good, structure is good, if these are done for the right reasons. If there is no good reason to keep doing things a certain way, then maybe we are just holding onto an old wineskin. An old perspective, an old paradigm, a tradition. There’s nothing wrong with these in and of themselves. However, there is a danger. The old wineskin, for many Jews, became an obstacle to a saving faith in Jesus.
God, He is way up there. He is holy. He would never become a man. He would never hang out with tax collectors and sinners. He would never allow himself to hang on a cross. Jesus is the new wineskin and he comes to shatter old wineskins. You can’t put God in a box because there is no box big enough. If church is a place where Jesus is the Head and He’s in charge, then shouldn’t we let him lead His church? I mean, we say, it’s His church. Isn’t it His prerogative to do what he wants with this church? We could be so confident in our perspective that Jesus could be standing right in front of us, but we would miss him. This is the danger of clinging to an old wineskin of religion.
Here we get another portrait of faith–John’s disciples bringing an innocent question before Jesus. Jesus is not scared off by our questions, by our doubts, by our skepticism. All he asks for is an open mind, a humble heart, an admission that we don’t have life all figured out. Bring your questions to Jesus with an open mind. That’s faith.
We get another portrait of faith in v27-30.
27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. 29 Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; 30 and their sight was restored…
Two blind men cry out to Jesus, have mercy on us. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to cry out for mercy from wherever we are. We’re blind. We can’t see. We don’t know the way forward. Ever feel that way? We have no friends to help take us to Jesus. We have a guy next to us but he’s not much help because he’s in the same predicament you are in because he’s blind, too.
Jesus doesn’t simply heal them. He tests them, do you believe that I am able to do this? Yes, Lord. According to your faith will it be done to you and their sight was restored. Faith is crying out to Jesus for mercy and believing that your cries will be answered.
It takes faith to live out v35-38.
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
When you look at the world, what do you see? I see a world of possibilities, a place where I can make my mark, it’s an arena where I can shine, it’s an adventure to find the love of my life. This is how most people see the world. With physical eyes.
How does Jesus see the world? He looks at the world and he sees brokenness, sickness, loneliness, purposelessness, meaninglessness. He looks at crowds of people and they are harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd to care for them. Because in the world, everyone looks out for number one. He sees a harvest field of souls waiting to be reaped. And he sees a lack of workers.
It takes eyes of faith to see as Jesus sees.