In the last post I tried to show that Matthew’s Jesus (remember: I’m not talking about the historical Jesus here; I’ve been referring to Jesus as he is presented in Matthew – a very different thing!) does indeed seem to think that his readers should follow not just the ethical aspects of the Jewish law, but the cultic aspects as well – keeping Sabbath, tithing, and so on. At the same time, it appears that Jesus in Matthew thinks that his opponents are wrong in placing the highest priority on keeping these cultic requirements, rather than on emphasizing the commandment to love that lies at its core.
This becomes especially clear in two stories that Matthew took over from Mark, but modified. The first is Mark’s account of the call of Levi the tax collector (Mark 2:13-17; in Matthew’s account, it is the call of Matthew!). When the Pharisees see Jesus eating in Levi’s home with “tax collectors and sinners,” they disparage him for mixing with such tainted company. Evidently their own emphasis on ritual purity before God precludes their eating with others who were not equally pure. In Mark, Jesus replies that it is the sick who need a physician, not the well, and that he has come to call sinners, not the righteous. In Matthew, Jesus’ reply includes an appeal to the Scriptures: “Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ [Hos. 6:6]. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). Thus according to Matthew, the Pharisees are more concerned with proper observance of the food laws of the Torah than with helping others; Jesus, on the other hand, is principally concerned with reaching out to those in need.
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