Loving the IRS Agent

In Matthew 18 Jesus teaches his followers how to handle conflict. He does this through a number of stories and direct teachings. One of the most interesting lessons he teaches is found in verse 17. He says, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In this command Jesus is teaching his followers how to handle conflict, but there are a couple reasons it doesn’t mean what we usually think it does.

First, tax collectors were some of the most hated members of Jewish society during Jesus’ time. On one level we can understand because we don’t like to pay taxes today. However, a tax collector in Jewish society was something more insidious than an IRS agent. He was a traitor who worked for the enemy: Rome. Consider the shame and controversy that is attached to people who commit treason against the United States. The emotions directed towards those people is similar to the type of feeling people might have had against tax collectors in Jesus’ time.

Second, it seems that Jesus is telling the church to treat unrepentant people like traitors and have nothing to do with them. However, Pastor Shane explained on Sunday that we need to remember Matthew’s profession. The author of this story was originally a tax collector. He was pursued by Jesus and his life was transformed because of it. This means we must love and pursue everyone. This includes the people that we don’t particularly like or the people who have offended us.

Forgiveness is a challenging task. It should cause us to ask ourselves, “Who are the ‘tax collectors’ in my life? I am tempted to leave this question unanswered. However, I think it is fruitful for us to consider how we should love people who have sinned against us in specific ways.

What will it look like for us to love…
people who lie to us?
people who cheat us out of money?
people who hurt us?
people who go behind our backs?
people who commit a crime?

We are called to pursue people who are lost. We are called to extend mercy endlessly. This is a high calling. It is certainly difficult. Will we hear Jesus’ command and obey?

This post is reflection on last Sunday’s sermon, you can listen to it here.