MERCY NOT SACRIFICE

Friday, 13th Week in Ordinary Time               

            In today’s gospel we see how Christ’s pastoral style is received by the Pharisees who are strict observers of the law and highly respected religious people. Imagine, Jesus calls Matthew to be his disciple… a tax collector… a public sinner… a man with a bad reputation… someone hated by his own people… a person who has already made a mess out of his life by betraying both his country and his religion.

            Not only does Jesus eat with a sinner like Matthew, but eats with a whole company of public sinners, thus ‘scandalizing’ the good people all around. Can you imagine a bishop dining with prostitutes, pimps, drug lords, gambling lords, and other notorious criminals? To eat with someone was, for the Jews (even for us today) an act of sharing and personal communion. So, they criticized Jesus, asking: “What reason can the Teacher have for eating with tax collectors and those who disregard the law?”

            But Jesus ignores social labels; he looks into human hearts. The more depraved and sinful they are, the more tenderly he seeks them out to heal them. His words reveal his heart: “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.”

            The fault of the Pharisees was not that they abhorred sin. Sin cannot be abhorred too strenuously. Their fault was that in their self-righteousness they failed to see that they too were sinners, with as much need for the compassion of Jesus as any mortal. As long as they considered themselves morally superior to people like those of Matthew’s party, however, they could never be the object of that compassion. A physician cannot heal all who are sick, only those who come in for healing.

            The heart of Jesus is a heart that goes out to those in need. His is a compassionate heart responding to God’s desire for mercy to be shown. Because mercy pleases God more than sacrifice.

            We are the object of God’s forgiving and merciful love. Let us strive to enflesh this forgiving love and compassion of God in our daily life.

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