Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.
Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)
Jesus came to do the laundry. Levi, the son of Alphaeus, is sometimes called Matthew. He was a tax collector. Tax collectors were prosperous individuals, who lived well and never lacked for anything. But they were universally denounced. They were the lowest of the low. They were like drug lords living high and mighty off the sale of death. Tax collectors had turned against their own people. They accepted a fortune in exchange for their souls. They had sold out their homeland for money. They were collaborators and traitors. Most religious people wanted to see them dead.
But Jesus asked such a person to become one of his disciples. And then Jesus attended a party he threw, paid for by his ill-gotten gain. It was a party filled with more tax collectors and the women they kept. The Pharisees were besides themselves with righteous indignation. They wanted to know how Jesus could eat with the lowlifes of society if he really were the Messiah.
According to the expectations and understandings of the religious establishment, one of the roles of the Messiah was to cleanse the nation of sinners. Instead, Jesus was partying with them. It made no sense.
The religious establishment missed the fact that though one could get rid of dirty laundry by burning it, there was a much better way. Just clean it. God preferred to simply clean the dirt that had stained the souls of men, rather than to destroy the men. Mercy is God’s first choice, not his last choice.