A reading from the gospel of Matthew 9:9-13
9 As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
10 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
11 The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 He heard this and said, “Those who are well, do not need a physician, but the sick do.
13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Reflection: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
In Jesus time, as in our time, some people live with the principle of “we versus them” or the attitude “holier than thou”. The Pharisees in particular thought they were holy and they cannot come near sinners like the tax collectors or else they will be contaminated.
The mission of Jesus is to bring back people to God. How can he accomplish His mission if he does not deal with people of different backgrounds? Jesus teaches people to love their neighbors whatever the background of those neighbors. He was just living the principle of “practice what you preach” when He called Matthew and then reclined at table with him together with all the other tax collectors who were probably Matthew’s friends.
No doubt the Pharisees followed exactly the laws of the Old Testament and continued the tradition of Moses of offering sacrifice. Yet, as in the time of Hosea (whom Jesus quoted in gospel passage), they lack what is more important: loving God and neighbor.
Nowadays, we go in and out of churches and temples. Nothing wrong with that except that we must never forget to love, to be compassionate, to accept and respect other people whoever they are. More importantly, we must be humble always and ever ready to forgive. Let us be aware that we are all sinners and in need of divine help.
God loves us and accepts us no matter how sinful we are. His only desire is for us to love Him back. Going to church and participating in all the activities therein should be secondary to our obligation to love God and neighbor. This is the meaning of “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.
Matthew was a tax collector, a profession looked down upon by the Israelites not only as corrupt but unpatriotic because they serve the Roman oppressors. Being despised in society, the tax collectors must have low self-esteem. Imagine therefore the surprise and the joy in Matthew’s face when Jesus, with a growing popularity as a respected Rabbi called him to be His follower. Without any second thought, he got up and followed Jesus.
Jesus indeed came to heal our physical as well as emotional and spiritual illnesses. He came to give back our dignity and make us whole.
Everyone is called to follow Jesus. It doesn’t matter what our background is. We may be a great sinner but our past does not define us. It doesn’t even matter what people think of us. What is important is our response to His call. It is our decision today and our plan for the future that God looks upon with His merciful eyes.
Do we have time to listen to Jesus? Does He have a space in our heart? May we be like Matthew who answered His call and followed Him. In this way, he allowed himself to be transformed by God’s power.