“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:12-13).
How could Jesus have called Matthew, named Levi in Mark and Luke, to be part of his inner circle and then how he could eat with sinners? Matthew is a tax collector. Tax collectors were, at the least, believed to be collecting money over and above, skimming off the top, the allotted prescribed taxes. Think of how much IRS agents are thought of in our country. At worst though, they were considered to be in collusion with the occupying power of Rome. Not only were they unethical and unclean, tax collectors were in league with the enemy! And Jesus is sitting down and eating with THEM!!!
In quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Jesus was drawing reference to the growing Pharisaic influence to aspire to and take on the ritual purity status of the priests sacrificing at the Temple. To be in favor with the religious leadership, to be accepted as part of the religious community, one had to follow certain prescriptions and practices, otherwise be recognized as unclean and while in that state, one did not belong to the community. Sharing table fellowship was a measure of that social construct, so if one was unclean, they were to eat alone.
Jesus would have none of that. Jesus sought to enter into relationship with anyone who was willing, even those who were considered on the outside, the peripheries, even unclean. He modeled for the people of his day, and says to us today, that we are loved for who we are and as we are, a beloved child of God. There is no THEM for Jesus! He bestowed and bestows his Mercy, Love, and Healing first, as the starting point. He accepted and accepts people first, builds relationships first, then continues to walk with us, to empower us to be perfect as his heavenly father is perfect (cf. Mt 5:48).
The bar of perfection is indeed high, higher than that of the Pharisees; the difference is that Jesus’ mercy is higher. Jesus meets us in our sin, but he does not want us to stay there. Jesus’ teachings are hard, but when we fall, he does not kick us in the teeth and cast us out of the community, he lays down with us, right in the dirt with us, face to face, wipes the tears from our eyes, offers his hand, and helps us to continue our journey.
No matter what you may be dealing with today, I invite you to accept the Love and Mercy Jesus extends to us at this moment, in this reading. I type as, Peter said, to you the reader, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk” (Acts 3:6). Let us rise up, as did Matthew, and walk together with Jesus today. As we do so, may we also be willing to extend God’s Love and Mercy with those we will meet today.
Painting: The Calling of St Matthew – Caravagio, 1600
Link for the Mass readings for Friday, July 6 2018:
Parallel readings: Mt 9:9-13, Mk 2:13-17, Lk 5:27-32