“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 considered 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 unclean, on the outside, the peripheries. He loved people then and loves us today for who we are and as we are, a beloved child of God. There is no THEM or OTHER for Jesus! He bestowed and bestows his mercy, love, and healing first, as the starting point of any relationship. Jesus calls us to a better and more fulfilling life now, so that it may carry over into eternity. 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, his willingness to enter into the chaos of another, is higher. Jesus meets us in our sin, he enters through our door, but he does not want us to stay there, he wants us to exit out of his door. Jesus’ teachings are hard, and when we fall, he does not kick us in the teeth and cast us aside, he lays down, right in the muck and mire with us, and face to face, wipes the dirt and tears from our eyes, offers his hand, and helps us to continue on our journey to see and experience that which is good, true and beautiful in life.
No matter what we are dealing or struggling with today, know that Jesus loves us more than we can ever mess up and he does not define us by our sin and/or worst decisions. 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).
Arise, as did Matthew in today’s Gospel, and walk with Jesus. Step by step with him we will be transformed as a part of God’s new creation. As we do so, may we also be willing to extend God’s healing, love and mercy with those we will meet today and all days.
Painting: The Calling of St Matthew – Caravagio, 1600
Link for the Mass readings for Friday, July 5 2019: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070519.cfm
Parallel readings: Mt 9:9-13, Mk 2:13-17, Lk 5:27-32