Monday, September 21, 2009

I Did Not Come To Call The Righteous, But Sinners.

On this Feast of Saint Matthew, in the First Reading (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13) Paul, from prison in Rome, writes to the Church at Ephesus, urging them to live a life worthy of the calling they have received from God. He lists four qualities that a true disciple of Christ should have.

Humility: God loves all of his children to the fullness of his being. So no one is more important than anyone else. To be humble is simply to recognize this. Being humble does not mean putting oneself down, but knowing that what we have – be it talent, or intellect, or wealth – is a gift from God, to be shared with the community of God’s people.
Gentleness: This quality can also be called “self-control”. A gentle person uses strength to help others, whether this strength is strength is physical, intellectual or moral. Jesus said, “Look to me, for I am gentle and humble of heart”.
Patience: When things are not going well, this quality helps us to keep on keeping on, and not give up. “When the going gets tough, the patient person keeps going!”
Tolerance: This quality is a form of patience with regard to other people. It helps us to be patient with the faults of others. Being tolerant does not mean ignoring the sinful behavior of another person, much less approving of it. Take as an example the attitude of Jesus when the Pharisees brought him the woman caught in adultery. His gentleness with her awakened her contrition and conversion. On the other hand, his attitude toward the intolerant Pharisees was intolerant – not of them, but of their behavior.

Some scholars consider verses 4-6 as part of an early Christian hymn, which repeats and elaborates the theme of unity: The word “one” is repeated several times: one body, one spirit, one glorious hope; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and father of us all. Paul concludes this part of the epistle by reminding the Ephesians that every one of us grace in the measure of God’s gift – and each has grace in keeping with our own person, and our own calling.

The second part of today’s epistle Paul writes that Jesus has given certain people to the church as a gift. These people have different gifts, but together they are God’s gift to the Church. Paul then describes the gifts God has given to these people to help other members of the community. Through them God builds up the church, so that it can grow.

The first of these are apostles, who are sent out into the world to bring the message of Christ Jesus to those who have not yet heard it. In Paul’s time, apostles included not only the Twelve, but Paul, Timothy, Barnabas, Silas and others mentioned in his letters and in the Acts of the Apostles. Next are evangelists, who are related to, but distinct from, apostles. Apostles bring the good news to new places. Evangelists preach and teach the good news to the people of their community. Then come pastors and teachers, whose mission is more easily explained -- shepherding and teaching. All of these ministries work together to build up the Body of Christ, which is the Church, until we attain to unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to full maturity, and eventually to the goal of every Christian: to attain the full stature of Christ himself.

The gospel of the Feast of Saint Matthew (Matt. 9:9-13) is the story of the conversion of a customs official called Levi in the gospels of Mark and Luke, but named Matthew in the gospel according to Matthew. In those days, tax collectors and customs officials had a reputation for cheating people so they could get richer quicker. They also were hated because they worked for the occupying forces – the Romans.

As Jesus passed by he saw Matthew at his counting table, and said to him, “Follow me!” Matthew got up and followed him. Then Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to have dinner with him, and invited several of his friends, other tax collectors and other people who did not obey the rules of the Pharisees to share the meal. The Pharisees saw them there together and were offended. But they did not confront Matthew. Instead, they waited until Jesus and his party left Matthew’s house to ask the disciples this question: “Why does your rabbi eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But it was Jesus who answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor; sick people do. Go learn the meaning of the saying: I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

Jesus is referring to Hosea 6:6 which reads “I desire mercy, not sacrifice; knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” In the Old Testament, burnt offerings, called holocausts were offered to God as an act of worship, and also as a sacrifice of atonement for sin. Most people made sacrifices because they were truly sorry for their sins. But others, including the Pharisees, had a notion that sacrifices could be offered first, a sort of prepayment plan for sin.

Jesus, echoing the words of Hosea, teaches that true religion is not about performing rituals, and offering sacrifices, but knowing God, and striving to do his will. Jesus concludes with his answer to the question of why he sat at table with people whose occupation or lifestyle placed them outside the law, at least according to the Pharisees. “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

The words of Jesus “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, and “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” refer not to what God expects from us, but the love God has for us. Saint Augustine, who has experience whereof he speaks, says, “God created us in order to forgive us.” In return, God asks us to forego judgment and condemnation, and be merciful and forgiving in our attitudes and actions toward one another. “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Thank God that He came to call the sinners, not the righteous -- for otherwise I would have been in BIG trouble!

Thank you for these posts. I have learned much from them. I don't always comment on them, but I do always read them. I imagine that I am not alone in my lurking.

Sarah in the tent said...

It's as though mercy can only flow through us if we open the tap at our end!
I love the way Our Lord keeps trying to get Pharisees to see the similarities between themselves and tax collectors. They should have been the ones to throw out the money changers in the temple.