I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners

Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle A

Hos 6:3-6 Psalm Ps 50:1, 8, 12-13, 14-15 Rom 4:18-25 Mt 9:9-13

NOTE: This past week our Parish celebrated it's fiesta. The fiesta planners asked if I would come to the Fiesta as St. Anthony of Padua, (our patron). My response was to challenge my fellow parishoners to a greater service to the sick of our community to which they generously responded. As my part of the deal, I got a tonsure and came to the fiesta as St. Anthony.

Tonsure Time
I wanted to point out to those not tall enough to notice that this past Friday I got a new haircut. I told the barber who gave it to me that I would start a new trend – Retro hair circa 1200 AD. He said that he had never given this kind of haircut before in his life, and he kept trying to leave a lot of hair on the top of my head, so that when I cut off the rest of the hair my head wouldn’t look so bad. He was a little embarrassed and kept worrying about what the other hair stylists in the salon would say about his barbering skills. When I got home, I had the help of my family in finally trimming down my hair to the right level of “shaved”.

Witness at Work – Let God out of the box!

At the same time, this has been a beautiful opportunity to witness to the Gospel in a way that people do not expect. It strikes at the heart of our insecurity with God. As Americans, we like to keep our relationship with God nice and private, without any truly disruptive effects on our life. It is unsettling when our love for God leads us to wear a goofy hairstyle. This unsettled-ness can end in one of two ways – either folks can leave thinking that we are just crazy (something that might happen anyway) or they ask “Why?” – which opens the relationship to a deeper level, to more dialog. This is what the readings are about today. Christ tells us himself that he came to heal the sinners, to bring them back into relationship with God – so that they might have abundant life!

The Conversion of St. Matthew

There is a great irony in the Gospel today, and it has many layers, like the layers of an onion. Let’s examine some of the different layers of this Gospel.

Roman Tax Collector = Enemy of God

Matthew, by his own admission is a Tax Collector. That means he was actively working against the Kingdom of Israel by collecting taxes for the Roman Government. You might be thinking to yourself, that’s not bad, I have a friend who works for the IRS and he is not a bad person. This is where some history can help us. In Israel the Roman Government is an enemy force, occupying the Kingdom of Israel and setting up a puppet ruler. The Jews believed that Israel is God’s Kingdom, and so if you are working to collect money for an occupying army, you are a direct enemy of the Kingdom of God. He was actively working to support the enemies of God.

Humility of St. Matthew

The second layer of the onion becomes apparent when we consider which Gospel says this and to which community in the early Church that Gospel was written. St. Matthew himself wrote the Gospel that we read today, so in a way it is a public admission of his own sinfulness. Matthew wrote his Gospel to the early Christian community who were converts to Christianity from Judaism; he was writing this to the folks who would most readily understand the seriousness of his sin.

When we read in the beginning of the Gospel today that Matthew was sitting at his tax post, Matthew is not glorifying his life of sin as sometimes we have a tendency to do when we are not truly repentant. This is a statement of his humility, his admission of the terrible life he led before Jesus was able to touch his heart.

John Chrysostum - God’s Perfect Timing

St. John Chrysostum asked the question – Why didn’t Jesus call Matthew at the same time He called Peter and Andrew, James and John? Jesus called Matthew at the time that was perfect for Matthew’s conversion. He was able to reach into the life of Matthew and touch his heart in a way that opened Matthew up to be filled with the great love of God.

Second Layer of the Onion – Complete conversion

The second layer of the onion is the witness of Matthew’s complete conversion in his heart – that he would admit to his sinful past to the early Jewish church – not to flaunt or wallow in his former sinful life (Something which we do if we are not completely converted in our hearts) – but rather to give glory to God by witnessing to the fullness of His love.

Christ came to bring us into a closer relationship with God. In order for us to enter into a deeper relationship with Him, we need to understand what is getting in the way of our relationship with Him.

More Connected – Less in relationship

Last year a new college was opened up in Lander, Wyoming; the Wyoming Catholic College. This college is the only college in the United States where the dorm rooms have no televisions, the use of cell phones is banned and there is limited internet connectivity. A few weeks ago I had the chance to talk with the president of the college. He explained to me the reason behind these policies. He said that the more connected we are (the more opportunity that we have to text, email, im, phone and chat with one another) the less ability that we have to relate with one another. Technology has become a barrier to true relationship in our world.

Holier than thou!

This difficulty in relationship leads us to the third layer of the onion is Christ’s statement at the end of the Gospel – “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.” Jesus is speaking to the people who are judging him for his actions without understanding His mission to lead people back into relationship with God. The righteous are my their own statement those who think that they are “Holier than thou”.

Let God out of the Box

In many ways the Pharisees who are criticizing Jesus are most like we Americans, because they feel that their relationship with God is private, nicely boxed in and neatly packaged. Like the Pharisees, we too risk a point in our own spiritual lives where our own religious devotion becomes a barrier to a deeper relationship with God. We can get into a mode where we become complacent with our relationship with God. So when Jesus says that he is The Pharisees, like us often use their own religiosity to protect them from a deeper relationship with God. How do we hear Jesus’ statement “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..”? Are we healthy, and so have no need for God’s love, or do we think that we are healthy and are unable to accept Christ’s healing?

Humility opens us up to the healing of the Great Physician

St. Matthew gives us the clue to getting out of this spiritual malaise – humility, recognizing that our souls are sick and in need of the Great Physician – Jesus Christ. Are our relationships with Christ boxed up in nice neat packages that seldom shows it’s light to the world, or are we ready to open ourselves up to the healing love of the Great Physician? Today’s Gospels lead us to the question – Which area of my life is in most need of conversion, of encountering the healing love of God this week?

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