Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 9:9-13; MARK 2:13-17; LUKE 5:27-32
9. And Jesus, passing on, saw a man sitting at the custom-house, named Matthew, and saith to him, Follow me. And he arose and followed 513 him. 10. And it happened that he was reclining in that man’s house, and, lo, many publicans and sinners who had come, reclined together with Jesus and his disciples. 11. And the Pharisees, when they saw it, said to his disciples, Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners? 12. But Jesus, when he had heard it, said to them, Not they who are in health have need of a physician, but they who are diseased. 13. But rather go, and learn what that means, I wish mercyh, and not sacrifice: for I came not to call righteous persons, but sinners, to repentance.
13. And he departed again towards the sea, and the whole multitude came to him, and he taught them. 14. And while Jesus was passing along, he saw Levi, the son of Alpheus, sitting at the custom-house, and said to him, Follow me: and he arose and followed him. 15. And it happened, while he was reclining in that man’s house, many publicans and sinners 514 also reclined along with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many who followed him. 16. And the scribes and Pharisees, when they saw him taking food with publicans and sinners, said to his disciples, Why is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 17. Jesus, having heard this, saith to them, Not they who are in health have need of a physician, but they who are diseased. I came not to call righteous persons, but sinners to repentance.
27. And after these things he went out, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the custom-house, and said to him, Follow me. 28. And he left all, and followed him. 515 29. And Levi made him a great banquet in his house; and there was a great multitude of publicans and others, who reclined with them. 30. And the scribes and Pharisees 516 murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31. And Jesus answering said to them, Not they who are in health need a physician, but they who are diseased. 32. I came not to call righteous persons, but sinners, to repentance.
Matthew 9:9. Jesus saw a man sitting at the customhouse. The custom-house has usually been a place noted for plundering and for unjust exactions, and was at that time particularly infamous. In the choice of Matthew out of that place, not only to be admitted into the family of Christ, but even to be called to the office of Apostle, we have a striking instance of the grace of God. It was the intention of Christ to choose simple and ignorant persons to that rank, in order to cast down the wisdom of the world, (1Co 2:6.) But this publican, who followed an occupation little esteemed and involved in many abuses, was selected for additional reasons, that he might be an example of Christ’s undeserved goodness, and might show in his person that the calling of all of us depends, not on the merits of our own righteousness, but on his pure kindness. Matthew, therefore, was not only a witness and preacher, but was also a proof and illustration of the grace exhibited in Christ. he gives evidence of his gratitude in not being ashamed to hand down for perpetual remembrance the record of what he formerly was, and whence he was taken, that he might more fully illustrate in his person the grace of Christ. In the same manner Paul says:
This is a faithful saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief, (1Ti 1:15.)
As to Mark and Luke calling him Levi, it appears that this was his ordinary name: 517 but that his being a publican was the reason why he took a foreign name.
Follow me There is no reason to doubt that Christ explained in many words why he was called, and on what conditions. This is more fully ascertained from Luke, who says, that he left all, rose up, and followed Christ: for it would not have been necessary for him to leave all, if he had not been a private disciple of Christ, and called in expectation of the Apostleship. In the great readiness and eagerness of Matthew to obey, we see the Divine power of the word of Christ. Not that all in whose ears he utters his voice are equally affected in their hearts: but in this man Christ intended to give a remarkable example, that we might know that his calling was not from man. 518
Luke 5:29. And Levi made him a great banquet This appears to be at variance with what Luke relates, that he left all: but the solution is easy. Matthew disregarded every hinderance, and gave up himself entirely to Christ, but yet did not abandon the charge of his own domestic affairs. When Paul, referring to the example of soldiers, exhorts the ministers of the word to be free and disentangled from every hinderance, and to devote their labors to the church, he says:
No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of life,
that he may please the commander, (2Ti 2:4.)
He certainly does not mean, that those who enroll themselves in the military profession divorce their wives, forsake their children, and entirely desert their homes; but that they quit their homes for a time, and leave behind them every care, that they may be wholly employed in war. In the same manner, nothing kept Matthew from following where Christ called; and yet he freely used both his house and his property, as far as the nature of his calling allowed. It was necessary, indeed, that he should leave the custom-house: for, had he been detained there, he would not have been a follower of Christ. 519
It is called a great banquet, with reference not to the multitude of the guests, but to the abundance and magnificence of the provisions: for we know that Christ did not practise such austerity, as not to allow himself to be sometimes entertained more splendidly by the rich, provided that there were no superfluity. Yet we cannot doubt that, as he was a remarkable example of temperance, so he exhorted those who entertained him to frugality and moderation in diet, and would never have endured wasteful and extravagant luxuries. Matthew says that sinners—that is, men of wicked lives and of infamous character—came to the banquet. The reason was, that the publicans, being themselves generally hated and despised, did not disdain to associate with persons of that description; for, as moderate correction produces shame and humiliation in transgressors, so excessive severity drives some persons to despair, makes them leave off all shame, and abandon themselves to wickedness. In levying custom or taxes there was nothing wrong: but when the publicans saw themselves cast off as ungodly and detestable persons, they sought consolation in the society of those who did not despise them on account of the bad and disgraceful reputation which they shared along with them. Meanwhile, they mixed with adulterers, drunkards, and such characters; whose crimes they would have detested, and whom they would not have resembled, had not the public hatred and detestation driven them to that necessity.
Matthew 9:11. Why does your Master eat with publicans and sinners? The scribes attack the disciples of Christ, and, with the view of soliciting them to revolt, reproach him with what was at first sight base and shameful.” Of what use was it that he should be their Master, if it were not to withdraw them from the majority of men to lead a holier life? On the contrary, he withdrew them from a respectable and passable condition in life to ungodly licentiousness, and to pollute themselves by wicked companions.” Ignorant and wavering disciples might have been induced by such reproaches to desert their Master. But they act properly when, not finding themselves sufficiently fortified against such a calumny, they carry their complaint to their Master: for Christ, by opposing the scribes, confirms his disciples for the future.
12. Not they who are in health need a physician It is evident from Christ’s reply that the scribes erred in two ways: they did not take into account the office of Christ; and, while they spared their own vices, they proudly despised all others. This deserves our particular attention, for it is a disease which has been always very general. Hypocrites, being satisfied and intoxicated with a foolish confidence in their own righteousness, do not consider the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world, and do not acknowledge the depth of evils in which the human race is plunged, or the dreadful wrath and curse of God which lies on all, or the accumulated load of vices which weighs them down.
The consequence is, that they are too stupid to feel the miseries of men, or to think of a remedy. While they flatter themselves, they cannot endure to be placed in their own rank, and think that injustice is done them, when they are classed with transgressors. Our Lord glances at this second error by replying, that they who are in health have no need of a physician It is an ironical admission, 520 and is intended to show that they are offended when they see sinners, because they claim righteousness for themselves. Because you are in health, (he says,) you despise the sick, are offended at them, and cannot endure the sight of them: but a physician ought to be affected in a very different manner. He afterwards points out that he must discharge the duties of a physician, because he has been sent by the Father to call sinners
Though Christ begins with reproof, yet if we desire to make progress in his doctrine, what he has put in the second place must receive our first consideration. He came to quicken the dead, to justify the guilty and condemned, to wash those who were polluted and full of uncleanness, to rescue the lost from hell, to clothe with his glory those who were covered with shame, to renew to a blessed immortality those who were debased by disgusting vices. If we consider that this was his office and the end of his coming, — if we remember that this was the reason why he took upon him our flesh, why he shed his blood, why he offered the sacrifice of his death, why he descended even to hell, we will never think it strange that he should gather to salvation those who have been the worst of men, and who have been covered with a mass of crimes.
He whom you detest appears to you to be unworthy of the grace of Christ. Why then was Christ himself made a sacrifice and a curse, but that he might stretch out his hand to accursed sinners? Now, if we feel disgust at being associated by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper with vile men, and regard our connection with them as a sort of stain upon us, we ought immediately to descend into ourselves, and to search without flattery our own evils. Such an examination will make us willingly allow ourselves to be washed in the same fountain with the most impure, and will hinder us from rejecting the righteousness which he offers indiscriminately to all the ungodly, the life which he offers to the dead, and the salvation which he offers to the lost.
13. But rather go and learn He dismisses and orders them to depart, because he saw that they were obstinate and unwilling to learn. Or rather he explains to them, that they are contending with God and the Prophet, when, in pride and cruelty, they are offended at relief which is given to the wretched, and at medicine which is administered to the sick. This quotation is made from Ho 6:6:
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;
and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.
The subject of the prophet’s discourse had been the vengeance of God against the Jews. That they might not excuse themselves by saying that they were performing the outward worship of God, (as they were wont to boast in a careless manner about their ceremonies,) he declares that God has no delight in sacrifices, when their minds are destitute of piety, and when their conduct is at variance with uprightness and righteousness. That the statement, I desired not sacrifice, must be understood comparatively, is evident from the second clause, that the knowledge of God is better than burnt-offerings By these words he does not absolutely reject burnt-offerings, but places them in a rank inferior to piety and faith. We ought to hold, that faith and spiritual worship are in themselves pleasing to God, and that charity and the duties of humanity towards our neighbors are in themselves required; but that sacrifices are but appendages, so to speak, which are of no value or estimation, where substantial truth is not found. On this subject I have treated more fully at the tenth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It ought to be observed that there is a synecdoche in the word mercy: for under one head the prophet embraces all the kindness which we owe to our brethren.
For I came not Though this was spoken for the purpose of reproving the pride and hypocrisy of the scribes, yet it contains, in a general form, a very profitable doctrine. We are reminded that the grace of Christ is of no advantage to us, unless when, conscious of our sins, and groaning under their load, we approach to him with humility. There is also something here which is fitted to elevate weak consciences to a firm assurance: for we have no reason to fear that Christ will reject sinners, to call whom he descended from his heavenly glory. But we must also attend to the expression, to repentance: which is intended to inform us that pardon is granted to us, not to cherish our sins, but to recall us to the earnestness of a devout and holy life. He reconciles us to the Father on this condition, that, being redeemed by his blood, we may present ourselves true sacrifices, as Paul tells us:
The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and devoutly in this world, (Titus 2:11,12.)
“Surgens assequutus est;” — “rising followed.”
“Gens de mauvaise vie;” — “people of bad life.”
There is nothing here answering to ἀναστὰς, rising up But the omission must have been accidental: for the French version runs thus: “lequel se levant, abandonna tout, et suivit;” — “who, rising up, forsook all, and followed.” — Ed.
“Et ceux d'entre eux qui estoyent scribes et Pharisiens;” —”and those among them who were scribes and Pharisees.”
“Il est aise a voir que c'estoit son droit nom par lequel les gens du pays l’appeloyent;” — “it is easy to see that it was his right name, by which the people of the country called him.”
“Qu’il n’a pas este appele par un moyen procedant de l’homme;” — “that he was not called by a method proceeding from man.”
“Pource qu'ayant cest empeschement, il n'eust pas peu suivre la compagnie de Christ;” — “because, having that hinderance, he could not have followed the company of Christ.”
“C’est une concession par ironie, (c’est a dire, moquerie;”)—”it is an admission made in irony, (that is, in ridicule.”)