Food for Thought-The One About the Prostitutes and the Tax Collectors: Initial Thoughts on Matthew 21:23-32


The One about the Tax Collectors and the Prostitute

That sounds like a great joke, doesn’t it? “A tax collector, a Pharisee, and a prostitute walk into bar, the Pharisee says I’ll take two shots of righteous indignation please.” To which the tax collector replies, “Not so fast buddy, I’ve already asked for her first.”

So what makes Matthew 21:23-32 so interesting? Because it’s a smack down! Jesus pulls no punches and verbally “opens up a can of whoop butt” on this group of Pharisees and scribes who are trying to catch him their theological trap. Do you know how bad it is to compare the top religious people to whores and people who were regarded as traitors to the Jewish race? Pretty bad, my friend. Pretty bad.

Initial thoughts…why are the prostitutes and the tax collectors more likely to get “it” and come into the kingdom of heaven than these uptight, holier than thou, religious jerks?

1. They have the least distance to fall. They are the lowest of the low in their society. What do they have to lose by listening to the Good News? In fact, they have everything to gain.

2. They carry less religious and theological baggage than the good God-fearing people of the religious establishment. They are not encumbered by misguided preconceptions and faulty interpretations of scripture. As people who are judged constantly, they are willing to look at the world beyond the rigid paradigm of the law. This is the same thing Jesus does.

3. They are willing to work for something. To make a living as a tax collector or a prostitute, you have to work hard. Tax collectors and prostitutes are open to using their work ethic for something that isn’t soul destroying. In that sense, because all three of these aspects work together, it becomes much easier for them to change their lives for the better. Inhibitions about changing every part of their life don’t bother them the same way it would the religious elite.

Here’s the big question.  Would the tax collectors and prostitutes be welcome in our church today?  Today’s tax collectors, sex workers, and other despised people who live on society’s margins, would they find an open home, as modeled and explained by Jesus?  Could we, if needed, make Jesus’ point to our own people?

Sad news is, probably not.