(Mat_9:9-13; Mar_2:13-17; Luk_5:27-32; Mat_10:2-4; Mar_3:13-19; Luk_6:12-19)
In two things chiefly does the fundamental difference appear between Christianity and all other religious systems, notably Rabbinism. And in these two things, therefore, lies the main characteristic of Christ’s work; or, taking a wider view, the fundamental idea of all religions. Subjectively, they concern sin and the sinner; or, to put it objectively, the forgiveness of sin and the welcome to the sinner. But Rabbinism, and every other system down to modern humanitarianism – if it rises so high in its idea of God as to reach that of sin, which is its shadow – can only generally point to God for the forgiveness of sin. What here is merely an abstraction, has become a concrete reality in Christ. He speaks forgiveness on earth, because He is its embodiment. As regards the second idea, that of the sinner, all other systems know of no welcome to him till, by some means (inward or outward), he have ceased to be a sinner and become a penitent. They would first make him a penitent, and then bid him welcome to God; Christ first welcomes him to God, and so makes him a penitent. The one demands, the other imparts life. And so Christ is the Physician, Whom they that are in health need not, but they that are sick. And so Christ came not to call the righteous but sinners – not to repentance, as our common text erroneously puts it in Mat_9:13, and Mar_2:17, but to Himself, to the Kingdom; and this is the beginning of repentance.
Thus it is that Jesus, when His teaching becomes distinctive from that of Judaism, puts these two points in the foreground: the one at the cure of the paralytic, the other in the call of Levi-Matthew. And this, also, further explains His miracles of healing as for the higher presentation of Himself as the Great Physician, while it gives some insight into the nexus of these two events, and explains their chronological succession. It was fitting that at the very outset, when Rabbinism followed and challenged Jesus with hostile intent, these two spiritual facts should be brought out, and that, not in a controversial, but in a positive and practical manner. For, as these two questions of sin and of the possible relation of the sinner to God are the great burden of the soul in its upward striving after God, so the answer to them forms the substance of all religions. Indeed, all the cumbrous observances of Rabbinism – its whole law – were only an attempted answer to the question: How can a man be just with God?
But, as Rabbinism stood self-confessedly silent and powerless as regarded the forgiveness of sins, so it had emphatically no word of welcome or help for the sinner. The very term ‘Pharisee,’ or ‘separated one,’ implied the exclusion of sinners. With this the whole character of Pharisaism accorded; perhaps, we should have said, that of Rabbinism, since the Sadducean would here agree with the Pharisaic Rabbi. The contempt and avoidance of the unlearned, which was so characteristic of the system, arose not from mere pride of knowledge, but from the thought that, as ‘the Law’ was the glory and privilege of Israel – indeed, the object for which the world was created and preserved – ignorance of it was culpable. Thus, the unlearned blasphemed his Creator, and missed or perverted his own destiny. It was a principle, that ‘the ignorant cannot be pious.’ On the principles of Rabbinism, there was logic in all this, and reason also, though sadly perverted. The yoke of ‘the Kingdom of God’ was the high destiny of every true Israelite. Only, to them it lay in external, not internal conformity to the Law of God: ‘in meat and drink,’ not ‘in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ True, they also perceived, that ‘sins of thought’ and purpose, though uncommitted, were ‘more grievous than even sins of outward deed;’ but only in this sense, that each outward sin was traceable to inward dereliction or denial of the Law – ‘no man sinneth, unless the spirit of error has first entered into him.’ On this ground the punishment of infidelity or apostasy in the next world was endless, while that of actual transgressions was limited in duration.
As ‘righteousness came by the Law,’ so also return to it on the part of the sinner. Hence, although Rabbinism had no welcome to the sinner, it was unceasing in its call to repentance and in extolling its merits. All the prophets had prophesied only of repentance. The last pages of the Tractate on the Day of Atonement are full of praises of repentance. It not only averted punishment and prolonged life, but brought good, even the final redemption to Israel and the world at large. It surpassed the observance of all the commandments, and was as meritorious as if one had restored the Temple and Altar, and offered all sacrifices. One hour of penitence and good works outweighed the whole world to come. These are only a few of the extravagant statements by which Rabbinism extolled repentance. But, when more closely examined, we find that this repentance, as preceding the free welcome of invitation to the sinner, was only another form of work-righteousness. This is, at any rate, one meaning of the saying which conjoined the Law and repentance, and represented them as preceding the Creation. Another would seem derived from a kind of Manichaean view of sin. According to it, God Himself was really the author of the yeṣer hara, or evil impulse (‘the law in our members’), for which indeed, there was an absolute necessity, if the world was to continue. Hence, ‘the penitent’ was really ‘the great one,’ since his strong nature had more in it of the ‘evil impulse,’ and the conquest of it by the penitent was really of greater merit than abstinence from sin. Thus it came, that the true penitent really occupied a higher place – ‘stood where the perfectly righteous could not stand.’ There is then both work and merit in penitence; and we can understand, how ‘the gate of penitence is open, even when that of prayer is shut,’ and that these two sentences are not only consistent, but almost cover each other – that the Messianic deliverance would come, if all Israel did righteousness, and, again, if all Israel repented for only one day; or, to put it otherwise – if Israel were all saints, or all sinners.
We have already touched the point where, as regards repentance, as formerly in regard to forgiveness, the teaching of Christ is in absolute and fundamental contrariety to that of the Rabbis. According to Jesus Christ, when we have done all, we are to feel that we are but unprofitable servants. According to the Rabbis, as Paul puts it, ‘righteousness cometh by the Law’ and, when it is lost, the Law alone can restore life; while, according to Christian teaching, it only bringeth death. Thus there was, at the very foundation of religious life, absolute contrariety between Jesus and His contemporaries. Whence, if not from heaven, came a doctrine so novel as that which Jesus made the basis of His Kingdom?
In one respect, indeed, the Rabbinic view was in some measure derived from the Old Testament, though by an external and, therefore, false interpretation of its teaching. In the Old Testament, also, ‘repentance’ was teshuḇah (תשובה) ‘return;’ while, in the New Testament, it is ‘change of mind’ (μετανοια). It would not be fair here to argue, that the common expression for repenting was ‘to do penitence’ (עשה תשובה), since by its side we frequently meet that other: ‘to return in penitence’ (שוב בתשובה). Indeed, other terms for repentance also occur. Thus tohu (תהו) means repentance in the sense of regret;ḥaratah, perhaps, more in that of a change of mind; while teyuḇa or teshuḇah is the return of repentance. Yet, according to the very common Rabbinic expression, there is a ‘gate of repentance’ (שעה תשובה תיובא) through which a man must enter, and, even if ḥaratah be the sorrowing change of mind, it is at most only that gate. Thus, after all, there is more in the ‘doing of penitence’ than appears at first sight. In point of fact, the full meaning of repentance as teshuḇah, or ‘return,’ is only realised, when a man has returned from dereliction to observance of the Law. Then, sins of purpose are looked upon as if they had been unintentional – nay, they become even virtuous actions.
We are not now speaking of the forgiveness of sins. In truth, Rabbinism knew nothing of a forgiveness of sin, free and unconditional, unless in the case of those who had not the power of doing anything for their atonement. Even in the passage which extols most the freeness and the benefits of repentance (the last pages of the Tractate on the Day of Atonement), there is the most painful discussion about sins great and small, about repentance from fear or from love, about sins against commands or against prohibitions; and, in what cases repentance averted, or else only deferred, judgment, leaving final expiation to be wrought by other means. These were: – personal sufferings, death, or the Day of Atonement. Besides these, there were always the ‘merits of the fathers;’ or, perhaps, some one good work done; or, at any rate, the brief period of purgatorial pain, which might open the gate of mercy. These are the so-called ‘advocates’ (peraqlitin, פּרקליטין) of the penitent sinner. In a classical passage on the subject, repentance is viewed in its bearing on four different spiritual conditions, which are supposed to be respectively referred to in Jer_3:22; Lev_16:30; Isa_22:14; and Psa_89:32. The first of these refers to a breach of a command, with immediate and persistent cry for forgiveness, which is at once granted. The second is that of a breach of a prohibition, when, besides repentance, the Day of Atonement is required. The third is that of purposed sin, on which death or cutting off had been threatened, when, besides repentance and the Day of Atonement, sufferings are required; while in open profanation of the Name of God, only death can make final atonement.
But the nature of repentance has yet to be more fully explained. Its gate is sorrow and shame. In that sense repentance may be the work of a moment, ‘as in the twinkling of an eye,’ and a life’s sins may obtain mercy by the tears and prayers of a few minutes’ repentance.’ To this also refers the beautiful saying, that all which rendered a sacrifice unfit for the altar, such as that it was broken, fitted the penitent for acceptance, since ‘the sacrifices of God were a broken and contrite heart.’ By the side of what may be called contrition, Jewish theology places confession (Vidui, וידוי) This was deemed so integral a part of repentance, that those about to be executed, or to die, were admonished to it. Achan of old had thus obtained pardon. But, in the case of the living all this could only be regarded as repentance in the sense of being its preparation or beginning. Even if it were ḥaratah, or regret at the past, it would not yet be teshuḇah, or return to God; and even if it changed purposed into unintentional sin, arrested judgment, and stayed or banished its Angel, it would still leave a man without those works which are not only his real destiny and merit heaven, but constitute true repentance. For, as sin is ultimately dereliction of the Law, beginning within, so repentance is ultimately return to the Law. In this sense there is a higher and meritorious confession, which not only owns sin but God, and is therefore an inward return to Him. So Adam, when he saw the penitence of Cain, burst into this Psalm, ‘It is a good thing to confess unto the Lord.’ Manasseh, when in trouble, called upon God and was heard, although it is added, that this was only done in order to prove that the door of repentance was open to all. Indeed, the Angels had closed the windows of Heaven against his prayers, but God opened a place for their entrance beneath His throne of glory. Similarly, even Pharaoh, who, according to Jewish tradition, made in the Red Sea confession of God, was preserved, became king of Nineveh, and so brought the Ninevites to true repentance, which verily consisted not merely in sackcloth and fasting, but in restitution, so that every one who had stolen a beam pulled down his whole palace to restore it.
But, after all, inward repentance only arrested the decrees of justice. That which really put the penitent into right relationship with God was good deeds. The term must here be taken in its widest sense. Fasting is meritorious in a threefold sense: as the expression of humiliation, as an offering to God, similar to, but better than the fat of sacrifices on the altar, and as preventing further sins by chastening and keeping under the body. A similar view must be taken of self-inflicted penances. On the other hand, there was restitution to those who had been wronged – as a woman once put it to her husband, to the surrender of one’s ‘girdle.’ Nay, it must be of even more than was due in strict law. To this must be added public acknowledgment of public sins. If a person had sinned in one direction, he must not only avoid it for the future, but aim at doing all the more in the opposite direction, or of overcoming sin in the same circumstances of temptation. Beyond all this were the really good works, whether occupation with the Law or outward deeds, which constituted perfect repentance. Thus we read, that every time Israel gave alms or did any kindness, they made in this world great peace, and procured great Paracletes between Israel and their Father in Heaven. Still farther, we are told what a sinner must do who would be pardoned. If he had been accustomed daily to read one column in the Bible, let him read two; if to learn one chapter in the Mishnah, let him learn two. But if he be not learned enough to do either, let him become an administrator for the congregation, or a public distributor of alms. Nay, so far was the doctrine of external merit carried, that to be buried in the land of Israel was supposed to ensure forgiveness of sins. This may, finally, be illustrated by an instance, which also throws some light on the parable of Dives in Hades. Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish had in early life been the associate of two robbers. But he repented, ‘returned to his God with all his heart, with fasting and prayer, was early and late before God, and busied himself with the torah (Law) and the commandments.’ Then both he and his former companions died, when they saw him in glory, while themselves were in the lowest hell. And when they reminded God, that with Him there was no regard of persons, He pointed to the Rabbi’s penitence and their own impenitence. On this they asked for respite, that they might ‘do great penitence,’ when they were told that there was no space for repentance after death. This is farther enforced by a parable to the effect, that a man, who is going into the wilderness, must provide himself with bread and water while in the inhabited country, if he would not perish in the desert.
Thus, in one and another respect, Rabbinic teaching about the need of repentance runs close to that of the Bible. But the vital difference between Rabbinism and the Gospel lies in this: that whereas Jesus Christ freely invited all sinners, whatever their past, assuring them of welcome and grace, the last word of Rabbinism is only despair, and a kind of Pessimism. For, it is expressly and repeatedly declared in the case of certain sins, and, characteristically, of heresy, that, even if a man genuinely and truly repented, he must expect immediately to die – indeed, his death would be the evidence that his repentance was genuine, since, though such a sinner might turn from his evil, it would be impossible for him, if he lived, to lay hold on the good, and to do it.
It is in the light of what we have just learned concerning the Rabbinic views of forgiveness and repentance that the call of Levi-Matthew must be read, if we would perceive its full meaning. There is no need to suppose that it took place immediately on the cure of the paralytic. On the contrary, the more circumstantial account of Mark implies, that some time had intervened. If our suggestion be correct, that it was winter when the paralytic was healed at Capernaum, we may suppose it to have been the early spring-time of that favoured district, when Jesus ‘went forth again by the seaside.’ And with this, as we shall see, best agrees the succession of after-events.
Few, if any, could have enjoyed better opportunities for hearing, and quietly thinking over the teaching of the Prophet of Nazareth, than Levi-Matthew. There is no occasion for speculating which was his original, or whether the second name was added after his conversion, since in Galilee it was common to have two names – one the strictly Jewish, the other the Galilean. Nor do we wonder, that in the sequel the first or purely Jewish name of Levi was dropped, and only that of Matthew (mati, matai, mateya, matiṯyah), retained. The latter which is the equivalent of Nathanael, or of the Greek Theodore (gift of God), seems to have been frequent. We read that it was that of a former Temple-official, and of several Rabbis. It is perhaps of more interest, that the Talmud names five as the disciples of Jesus, and among them these two whom we can clearly identify: Matthew and Thaddaeus.
Sitting before his custom-house, as on that day when Jesus called him, Matthew must have frequently heard Him as He taught by the sea-shore. For this would be the best, and therefore often chosen, place for the purpose. Thither not only the multitude from Capernaum could easily follow; but here was the landing-place for the many ships which traversed the Lake, or coasted from town to town. And this not only for them who had business in Capernaum or that neighbourhood, but also for those who would then strike the great road of Eastern commerce, which led from Damascus to the harbours of the West. Touching the Lake in that very neighbourhood, it turned thence, northwards and westwards, to join what was termed the Upper Galilean road.
We know much, and yet, as regards details, perhaps too little about those ‘tolls, dues, and customs,’ which made the Roman administration such sore and vexatious exaction to all ‘Provincials,’ and which in Judaea loaded the very name of publican with contempt and hatred. They who cherished the gravest religious doubts as to the lawfulness of paying any tribute to Caesar, as involving in principle recognition of a bondage to which they would fain have closed their eyes, and the substitution of heathen kingship for that of Jehovah, must have looked on the publican as the very embodiment of anti-nationalism. But perhaps men do not always act under the constant consciousness of such abstract principles. Yet the endless vexatious interferences, the unjust and cruel exactions, the petty tyranny, and the extortionate avarice, from which there was neither defence nor appeal, would make it always well-nigh unbearable. It is to this that the Rabbis so often refer. If ‘publicans’ were disqualified from being judges or witnesses, it was, at least so far as regarded witness-bearing, because ‘they exacted more than was due.’ Hence also it was said, that repentance was specially difficult for tax-gatherers and custom-house officers.
It is of importance to notice, that the Talmud distinguishes two classes of ‘publicans:’ the tax-gatherer in general (gabai), and the mokhes, or mokhsa, who was specially the douanier or custom-house official. Although both classes fall under the Rabbinic ban, the douanier – such as Matthew was – is the object of chief execration. And this, because his exactions were more vexatious, and gave more scope to rapacity. The gabai, or tax-gatherer, collected the regular dues, which consisted of ground-, income-, and poll-tax. The ground-tax amounted to one-tenth of all grain and one-fifth of the wine and fruit grown; partly paid in kind, and partly commuted into money. The income-tax amounted to 1 per cent.; while the head-money, or poll-tax, was levied on all persons, bond and free, in the case of men from the age of fourteen, in that of women from the age of twelve, up to that of sixty-five.
If this offered many opportunities for vexatious exactions and rapacious injustice, the mokhes might inflict much greater hardship upon the poor people. There was tax and duty upon all imports and exports; on all that was bought and sold; bridge-money, road-money, harbour-dues, town-dues, etc. The classical reader knows the ingenuity which could invent a tax, and find a name for every kind of exaction, such as on axles, wheels, pack-animals, pedestrians, roads, highways; on admission to markets; on carriers, bridges, ships, and quays; on crossing rivers, on dams, on licences, in short, on such a variety of objects, that even the research of modern scholars has not been able to identify all the names. On goods the ad valorem duty amounted to from 2½ to 5, and on articles of luxury to even 12½ per cent. But even this was as nothing, compared to the vexation of being constantly stopped on the journey, having to unload all one’s pack-animals, when every bale and package was opened, and the contents tumbled about, private letters opened, and the mokhes ruled supreme in his insolence and rapacity.
The very word mokhes seems, in its root-meaning, associated with the idea of oppression and injustice. He was literally, as really, an oppressor. The Talmud charges them with gross partiality, remitting in the case of those to whom they wished to show favour, and exacting from those who were not their favourites. They were a criminal race, to which Lev_20:5 applied. It was said, that there never was a family which numbered a mokhes, in which all did not become such. Still, cases are recorded when a religious publican would extend favour to Rabbis, or give them timely notice to go into hiding. If one belonging to the sacred association (a ḥaḇer) became either a gabai or a mokhes, he was at once expelled, although he might be restored on repentance. That there was ground for such rigour, appears from such an occurrence as when a mokhes took from a defenseless person his ass, giving him another, and very inferior, animal for it. Against such unscrupulous oppressors every kind of deception was allowed; goods might be declared to be votive offerings, or a person pass his slave as his son.
The mokhes was called ‘great’ if he employed substitutes, and ‘small’ if he stood himself at the receipt of custom. Till the time of Caesar the taxes were farmed in Rome, at the highest bidding, mostly by a joint-stock company of the knightly order, which employed publicans under them. But by a decree of Caesar, the taxes of Judaea were no longer farmed, but levied by publicans in Judaea, and paid directly to the Government, the officials being appointed by the provincials themselves. This was, indeed, a great alleviation, although it perhaps made the tax-gatherers only more unpopular, as being the direct officials of the heathen power. This also explains how, if the Mishnah forbids even the changing of money from the guilt-laden chest of a mokhes, or douanier, the Gemara adds, that such applied to custom-house officers who either did not keep to the tax appointed by the Government, or indeed to any fixed tax, and to those who appointed themselves to such office – that is, as we take it, who would volunteer for the service, in the hope of making profit on their own account. An instance is, however, related of a gabai, or tax-gatherer, becoming a celebrated Rabbi, though the taint of his former calling deterred the more rigid of his colleagues from intercourse with him. On heathen feast days toll was remitted to those who came to the festival. Sometimes this was also done from kindness. The following story may serve as a final illustration of the popular notions, alike about publicans and about the merit of good works. The son of a mokhes and that of a very pious man had died. The former received from his townsmen all honour at his burial, while the latter was carried unmourned to the grave. This anomaly was Divinely explained by the circumstances that the pious man had committed one transgression, and the publican had done one good deed. But a few days afterwards a further vision and dream was vouchsafed to the survivors, when the pious was seen walking in gardens beside water-brooks, while the publican was descried stretching out his tongue towards the river to quench his thirst, but unable to reach the refreshing stream.
What has been described in such detail, will cast a peculiar light on the call of Matthew by the Saviour of sinners. For, we remember that Levi-Matthew was not only a ‘publican,’ but of the worst kind: a ‘mokhes’ or douanier: a ‘little mokhes,’ who himself stood at his custom-house; one of the class to whom, as we are told, repentance offered special difficulties. And, of all such officials, those who had to take toll from ships were perhaps the worst, if we are to judge by the proverb: ‘Woe to the ship which sails without having paid the dues.’ And yet, after all, Matthew may have been only one of that numerous class to whom religion is merely a matter quite outside of, and in another region from life, and who, having first gone astray through ignorance, feel themselves ever farther repelled, or rather shut out, by the narrow, harsh uncharitableness of those whom they look upon as the religious and pious.
But now quite another day had dawned on him. The Prophet of Nazareth was not like those other great Rabbis, or their pietist, self-righteous imitators. There was that about Him which not only aroused the conscience, but drew the heart – compelling, not repelling. What He said opened a new world. His very appearance bespoke Him not harsh, self-righteous, far away, but the Helper, if not even the Friend, of sinners. There was not between Him and one like Matthew, the great, almost impassable gap of repentance. He had seen and heard Him in the Synagogue – and who that had heard His Words, or witnessed His power, could ever forget, or lose the impression? The people, the rulers, even the evil spirits, had owned His authority. But in the Synagogue Jesus was still the Great One, far-away from him; and he, Levi-Matthew, the ‘little Mokhes’ of Capernaum, to whom, as the Rabbis told him, repentance was next to impossible. But out there, in the open, by the seashore, it was otherwise. All unobserved by others, he observed all, and could yield himself, without reserve, to the impression. Now, it was an eager multitude that came from Capernaum; then, a long train bearing sufferers, to whom gracious, full, immediate relief was granted – whether they were Rabbinic saints, or sinners. And still more gracious than His deeds were His Words.
And so Matthew sat before his custom-house, and hearkened and hoped. Those white-sailed ships would bring crowds of listeners; the busy caravan on that highway would stop, and its wayfarers turn aside to join the eager multitude – to hear the Word or see the Word. Surely, it was not ‘a time for buying and selling,’ and Levi would have little work, and less heart for it at his custom-house. Perhaps he may have witnessed the call of the first Apostles; he certainly must have known the fishermen and ship-owners of Capernaum. And now it appeared, as if Jesus had been brought still nearer to Matthew. For, the great ones of Israel, ‘the Scribes of the Pharisees,’ and their pietist followers, had combined against Him, and would exclude Him, not on account of sin, but on account of the sinners. And so, we take it, long before that eventful day which for ever decided his life, Matthew had, in heart, become the disciple of Jesus. Only he dared not, could not, have hoped for personal recognition – far less for call to discipleship. But when it came, and Jesus fixed on him that look of love which searched the inmost deep of the soul, and made Him the true Fisher of men, it needed not a moment’s thought or consideration. When he spake it, ‘Follow Me,’ the past seemed all swallowed up in the present heaven of bliss. He said not a word, for his soul was in the speechless surprise of unexpected love and grace; but he rose up, left the custom-house, and followed Him. That was a gain that day, not of Matthew alone, but of all the poor and needy in Israel – nay, of all sinners from among men, to whom the door of heaven was opened. And, verily, by the side of Peter, as the stone, we place Levi-Matthew, as typical of those rafters laid on the great foundation, and on which is placed the flooring of that habitation of the Lord, which is His Church.
It could not have been long after this – probably almost immediately – that the memorable gathering took place in the house of Matthew, which gave occasion to that cavil of the Pharisaic Scribes, which served further to bring out the meaning of Levi’s call. For, opposition ever brings into clearer light positive truth, just as judgment comes never alone, but always conjoined with display of higher mercy. It was natural that all the publicans around should, after the call of Matthew, have come to his house to meet Jesus. Even from the lowest point of view, the event would give them a new standing in the Jewish world, in relation to the Prophet of Nazareth. And it was characteristic that Jesus should improve such opportunity. When we read of ‘sinners’ as in company with these publicans, it is not necessary to think of gross or open offenders, though such may have been included. For, we know what such a term may have included in the Pharisaic vocabulary. Equally characteristic was it, that the Rabbinists should have addressed their objection as to fellowship with such, not to the Master, but to the disciples. Perhaps, it was not only, nor chiefly, from moral cowardice, though they must have known what the reply of Jesus would have been. On the other hand, there was wisdom, or rather cunning, in putting it to the disciples. They were but initial learners – and the question was one not so much of principle, as of acknowledged Jewish propriety. Had they been able to lodge this cavil in their minds, it would have fatally shaken the confidence of the disciples in the Master; and, if they could have been turned aside, the cause of the new Christ would have been grievously injured, if not destroyed. It was with the same object, that they shortly afterwards enlisted the aid of the well-meaning, but only partially-instructed disciples of John on the question of fasting, which presented a still stronger consensus of Jewish opinion as against Christ, all the more telling, that here the practice of John seemed to clash with that of Jesus.
But there John was at the time in prison, and passing through the temporary darkness of a thick cloud towards the fuller light. But Jesus could not leave His disciples to answer for themselves. What, indeed, could or would they have had to say? And He ever speaks for us, when we cannot answer for ourselves. From their own standpoint and contention – nay, also in their own form of speech – He answered the Pharisees. And He not only silenced their gain-saying, but further opened up the meaning of His acting – nay, His very purpose and Mission. ‘No need have they who are strong and in health of a physician, but they who are ill.’ It was the very principle of Pharisaism which He thus set forth, alike as regarded their self-exclusion from Him and His consorting with the diseased. And, as the more Hebraic Matthew adds, applying the very Rabbinic formula, so often used when superficial speciousness of knowledge is directed to further thought and information: ‘Go and learn!’ Learn what? What their own Scriptures meant; what was implied in the further prophetic teaching, as correction of a one-sided literalism and externalism that misinterpreted the doctrine of sacrifices – learn that fundamental principle of the spiritual meaning of the Law as explanatory of its mere letter, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.’ They knew no mercy that was not sacrifice – with merit attaching; He no sacrifice, real and acceptable to God, that was not mercy. And this also is a fundamental principle of the Old Testament, as spiritually understood; and, being such a fundamental principle, He afterwards again applied this saying of the prophet to His own mode of viewing and treating the Sabbath-question.
This was one aspect of it, as Jesus opened up anew the Old Testament, of which their key of knowledge had only locked the door. There was yet another and higher, quite explaining and applying alike this saying and the whole Old Testament, and thus His own Mission. And this was the fullest unfolding and highest vindication of it: ‘For, I am not come to call righteous men, but sinners.’ The introduction of the words ‘to repentance’ in some manuscripts of Matthew and Mark shows, how early the full meaning of Christ’s words was misinterpreted by prosaic apologetic attempts, that failed to fathom their depth. For, Christ called sinners to better and higher than repentance, even to Himself and His Kingdom; and to ‘emendate’ the original record by introducing these words from another Gospel marks a purpose, indicative of retrogression. And this saying of Christ concerning the purpose of His Incarnation and Work: ‘to call not righteous men, but sinners,’ also marks the standpoint of the Christ, and the relation which each of us, according to his view of self, of righteousness, and of sin – personally, voluntarily, and deliberately – occupies towards the Kingdom and the Christ.
The history of the call of Matthew has also another, to some extent subordinate, historical interest, for it was no doubt speedily followed by the calling of the other Apostles. This is the chronological succession in the Synoptic narratives. It also affords some insight into the history of those, whom the Lord chose as bearers of His Gospel. The difficulties connected with tracing the family descent or possible relationship between the Apostles are so great, that we must forego all hope of arriving at any certain conclusion. Without, therefore, entering on details about the genealogy of the Apostles, and the varied arrangement of their names in the Gospels, which, with whatever uncertainty remaining in the end, may be learned from any work on the subject, some points at least seem clear. First, it appears that only the calling of those to the Apostolate is related, which in some sense is typical, viz. that of Peter and Andrew, of James and John, of Philip and Bartholomew (or Bar Telamyon, or Temalyon, generally supposed the same as Nathanael), and of Matthew the publican. Yet, secondly, there is something which attaches to each of the others. Thomas, who is called Didymus (which means ‘twin’), is closely connected with Matthew, both in Luke’s Gospel and in that of Matthew himself. James is expressly named as the son of Alphaeus or Clopas. This we know to have been also the name of Matthew-Levi’s father. But, as the name was a common one, no inference can be drawn from it, and it does not seem likely that the father of Matthew was also that of James, Judas, and Simon, for these three seem to have been brothers. Judas is designated by Matthew as Lebbaeus, from the Hebrew leḇ, a heart, and is also named, both by him and by Mark, Thadaeus – a term which, however, we would not derive, as is commonly done, from ṯad, the ‘female breast,’ but following the analogy of the Jewish name ṯodah, from ‘praise.’ In that case both Lebbaeus and Thaddaeus would point to the heartiness and the Thanksgiving of the Apostle, and hence to his character. Luke simply designates him Judas of James, which means that he was the brother (less probably, the son) of James. Thus his real name would have been Judas Lebbaeus, and his surname Thaddaeus. Closely connected with these two we have in all the Gospels, Simon, surnamed Zelotes or Cananaean (not Canaanite), both terms indicating his original connection with the Galilean Zealot party, the ‘Zealots for the Law.’ His position in the Apostolic Catalogue, and the testimony of Hegesippus, seem to point him out as the son of Clopas, and brother of James, and of Judas Lebbaeus. These three were, in a sense, cousins of Christ, since, according to Hegesippus, Clopas was the brother of Joseph, while the sons of Zebedee were real cousins, their mother Salome being a sister of the Virgin. Lastly, we have Judas Iscariot, or Ish kerioṯ, ‘a man of Kerioth,’ a town in Judah. Thus the betrayer alone would be of Judaean origin, the others all of Galilean; and this may throw light on not a little in his after-history.
No further reference than this briefest sketch seems necessary, although on comparison it is clear that the Apostolic Catalogues in the Gospels are ranged in three groups, each of them beginning with respectively the same name (Simon, Philip, and James the son of Alphaeus). This, however, we may remark – how narrow, after all, was the Apostolic circle, and how closely connected most of its members. And yet, as we remember the history of their calling, or those notices attached to their names which afford a glimpse into their history, it was a circle, thoroughly representative of those who would gather around the Christ. Most marked and most solemn of all, it was after a night of solitary prayer on the mountain-side, that Jesus at early dawn ‘called His disciples, and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named Apostles,’ ‘that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sickness and to cast out devils.’