Luther’s Notes on the Gospel: the Festival of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (September 21)

September 21

Matthew 9:9-13

New King James Version

9 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.

10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”


Luther’s Explanatory Notes:

9 If And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and fol lowed him.

Follow me. Who are our dear Lord’s nearest servants and his most prominent counsellors, whom he has in his kingdom ? They are altogether poor sinners, who, if dependent on their own righteousness or good works, would have to sit in the abyss of hell.

10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners?

Jews and Gentiles. The Jews rave and rage against the gospel; as if it were the most dangerous pestilence; the heathen ridicule it, as a vain and idle thought of men. (1 Corinthians 1:23) The former regard it as blasphemy, the latter as fables. But the Church and Christ pass through the midst of them and despise with the right ear the blasphemies of the former, and with the left ear the fables of the latter, and live in the truth of the faith which honors God, without blasphemy and fables.

12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

They that be whole need not a physician. Here Christ philosophizes; that is, he speaks of the nature of things; and this philosophy he turns very well to his own purpose. This is philosophy; namely, to know how properly to use the knowledge of natural things. The other philosophers only speculate. They say, indeed, how nature does this and that, but they do not teach therewith what these things signify; how beautifully Christ here applies the medical art to religion or to faith.

Here the Lord shows that sin is not merely a defect, but a most dangerous disease, whereby body and soul are eternally injured. But here we see how every one disregards this danger.

13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Call not the righteous but sinners. The other part of Christ’s answer is found in the prophet Hosea 6:6, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” which is above measure comforting and beautiful ; and this Scripture would be abundantly sufficient for us to learn the will of God. But who is it that says, “I will have mercy?” The majestic God, with whom everything is one will; his will endures no opposition, nor can it be changed, so that he could will anything else. And this word means not simply to wish something, but to have pleasure therein, to delight in it, and heartily to desire it. 

“Mercy.” Wouldst thou know what this is, then look upon the want and distress of thy neighbor.

1. Upon the sin. Wilt thou be merciful to sinners, then thou must not run away from them, but hold on to them, exhort, call, comfort, yea, also have patience with them.

2. Upon bodily afflictions. Here thou canst serve with a kind word and a benevolent heart.

3. Upon want of goods and food. Here thou canst show mercy by food and drink, clothing and other acts of beneficence. Matt. 25:35 ff.

One may freely ask, Why does God have such an abhorrence of the outward sacrifice, which indeed, he chose for himself, and sanctioned it among so many of the fathers; and in addition to this, everything that a righteous man does in faith is acceptable to him? Answer: (Psalm 18:26,) “With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward.” We must make a difference between the persons that sacrifice.

“I am come.” Herein lies a great consolation. Forinthat he says, “I am come,” it is just as much as when he says elsewhere, ” I am sent.” For he came, because this was the will of the Father.

In the second place, Christ derides the Pharisees with these words, who might perhaps say, Do we not also teach that sinners should repent? What new thing dost thou then present? Yes, says he, ye claim to be righteous, whilst ye are sinners, and ye do nothing else than pronounce yourselves and others righteous, when in fact ye are, in God’s sight, dreadful sinners. Such righteous ones I do not call to repentance, neither do they need repentance, since, according to your declaration, you call sinners to repentance according to the righteousness of the law, so that you make two-fold sinners of them, just like yourselves. I call to repentance according to the forgiveness of sins, so that I make two-fold righteous; namely, in grace and in truth.

“Sinners and not the righteous.” That is, all men; for none are righteous. Rom. 3:23. We must not, however, turn this into lawlessness (Jude 4,) and say, Grace, Grace! therefore it is not necessary to do good works! But Christ says here, that he, indeed, calls sinners, yet not unto freedom to sin, but to repentance; that is, (continual) suppression of sin. Rom. 6:2-4.

14 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

Thy disciples fast not. It seems as if this could be connected with the preceding. For fasting is a part of repentance. Therefore it seems as though the disciples of Jesus were not repenting, because they did not fast.

15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

Can the children of the hide-chamber mourn? Here it is to be observed that he calls the fastings of the Pharisees mourning and sorrowing. By this he wishes to indicate that the righteousness of the law and of men is a mournful service, such as we hold over the dead.

But the days will come. This may be understood in various ways. First, that after Christ has ascended to heaven, his saints shall be compelled, indeed, to fast and endure all kinds of evil; yet this they will cheerfully do. Secondly, in a prophetical sense, that after Christ shall have been taken away from the Jews (or also from us,) the joyful feast of faith shall cease; that is, there will be nothing but death and destruction. But I prefer the third meaning that Christ would say this much, I will give to my saints mourning and fasting enough, without your fasting and mourning, which is worth nothing; that is, I will leave them in many kinds of temptations, like Paul, that they shall not see or perceive me as their bridegroom. Then they will be sorrowful and really fast. This voluntary suffering is right and acceptable, it is a true cross.

16 No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. 17 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they cut new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

New cloth — New wine. Your fasting and entire penitence and righteousness must be replaced by a new fasting, penitence and righteousness; that is, all your works must be rejected, and the whole be made new.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 54-56.

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