July 5, 2019 – Friday 13th Week in Ordinary Time
From the Gospel of Matthew (9:9-13)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.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“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 Gospel of the Lord.
The Pharisees would have been so shocked and scandalized with what Jesus did. Our Gospel story today tells us of the call of Matthew, a Jewish tax-collector of the Romans. Matthew and Jews like him who worked for the Romans were despised by their fellow Jews. They were considered traitors because they were associated with the Roman Empire who dominated the Jews. Besides, there were tax-collectors too who would treat their fellow Jews badly and would collect high taxes. Their land was occupied by these foreigners and were forced to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor.
The Jewish population and their religious leaders also considered these tax-collectors as public sinners. And since they were public sinners, they were barred from entering the temple and other religious activities of Judaism. They were considered non-religious, therefore, excommunicated by their fellow Jews.
They were part of the cycle of oppression perpetrated by the Romans. Anyone who will befriend them or be associated with them was in danger of being contaminated by their sins. Once a person was thought to be contaminated by these tax-collector, then, the person will also be disowned by his/her fellow Jews. With this situation of the tax-collectors, they lived a life separate from their Jewish brothers and sisters.
Yet, what was so shocking for the people and particularly to the Pharisees was on how Jesus crossed all the barriers of interaction with these public sinners. Jesus called Matthew to follow him and even dined with other tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus made them his friends.
The Pharisees expected Jesus to condemn them. However, Jesus went the other way. He did not follow the conventional way of relating with these people. Consequently, Jesus surprised them by making a personal interaction with them and building a personal relationship with these sinners.
But, was Jesus being contaminated by their sins? This was the fear of the Pharisees. That is why, they won’t dare relating and making these people their friends. The question of the Pharisees, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” was not out of concern, but out of condemnation and hate. They wanted Jesus to hate them and condemn them and to further separate them from the community.
Jesus was not contaminated by their sins, but rather, Jesus contaminated these people with his kindness, friendship and mercy. Jesus welcomed them and accepted them despite their sins. This was God’s way to bring healing and to invite these sinners into a better life. Jesus declares, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Showing mercy and concrete actions of love towards others is greater than a big amount of money to the temple.
Jesus’ action was an invitation for these people to change and to be transformed in the way God desires it. It was God’s way of telling both the righteous and the sinners that God does not condemn but desires healing, reconciliation and fullness of life for all.
Today, Jesus invites us that we learn, not from the Pharisees, but from him. Each of us is a sinner, and yet, Jesus chose to be with us and to make us his friends to give us fullness of life. Jesus set the example that a true Christian builds friendship and contaminates others with kindness and mercy.
Just like the Pharisees, we might still have that idea of condemning our brothers and sisters who considered terrible sinners. Like them, we too might have that attitude of separating those people whom we consider as unclean for fear of being contaminated and be associated with them.
Kindness, friendship and mercy are more contaminating than any sin and imperfection. Thus, like Jesus, contaminate people around you with your friendship, kindness and mercy. And we shall certainly see and experience that there is more life, healing and reconciliation in our families and communities when we build friendship, and show kindness and mercy rather than condemnation and hate with one another. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR