THEME: JESUS, THE LOVER OF SINNERS
BY: Fr. Paul Karabari
HOMILY FOR FRIDAY JULY 1 2022
‘As Jesus passed on, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.’
The Gospel of today (Matthew 9:9-13) presents the call of Matthew. After the healing of the paralytic man, Jesus saw Matthew, who was “sitting at the tax booth.” Tax collectors in the time of Jesus were not part of the popular, celebrated benefactors or heroes of the community, to say the least. They were seen as extortionist, the way some of them milked the system to their advantage, and to the disadvantage of the tax-payer. The Roman government received their due, the tax collector got his nice cut, but the poor tax payers were left drained. And they didn’t forget it when they saw these men.
Revenue codes were as bewildering then and the average citizen was at the mercy of the tax agent to know how much he owed; dishonest publicans would overcharge and keep the surplus for themselves. Not surprisingly, it was common for orthodox Jews to place tax collectors in the same category with sinners and harlots (5:46; 9:10,21,31). Matthew’s call, therefore, again shows the hope Christ offered to outcasts.
Jesus would speak to anyone, even those widely considered to be unrighteous or unfair. After all, he came “not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew “arose and followed him.” We are not able to know everything that went on in Matthew’s head. Apparently, he knew enough about Jesus at this point, he was ready of heart to make the choice.
Well, this initiative on the part of Jesus, combined with the right choice of Matthew yielded good results with others: “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples.”
Remember, these are the people Jesus came to reach, to teach and to convert: Sinners! Here they are. Everything is as it should be. Jesus approached one man and now has a group of listeners. A group of the very people He came to save: Sinners!
What is wrong with this? Well nothing, except Jesus, in this gathering, attracted the attention of His enemies, the Pharisees. They “saw this,” and said to the Lord’s disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The Pharisee mentality emerges clearly here. To them, association (“table fellowship”) was equated with guilt, even if the one who initiated the association is sinless! To them, the Master Teacher was automatically guilty, because the students before him were sinners.
Jesus didn’t let their hypocritical judgment move Him from His mission, which was to be a spiritual physician, to heal sinners. Those, like the Pharisees, who operated under the self-deception that they were in good spiritual health, Jesus could not heal (until the conviction of sin hit them).
As this episode closes, Jesus leaves us with this: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This quotes from Hosea 6:6. It was widely misunderstood among the Jews, who were obsessed with rituals like sacrifice. That is to say, the concept developed among them that all one needs to do is, sacrifice the right animal, at the right time, in the right place. They didn’t get the purpose of God’s requirements to prepare them for the Cross, to change their hearts and remind them of their spiritual need. Ritual they got. Mercy, they didn’t.
Likewise, the Jewish leadership had little interests in the genuine development of their character, or helping sinners. Jesus has this rich interests in helping people out of sin and taking them to God. The Pharisees want to offer the sacrifices, make sure others offer them, and with the ritual done, keep separate from the sinners and consider them as swine with. Mercy was overlooked or slighted, while men engaged in their rituals, traditions and separations from the unholy.
Matthew’s response shows obedience to Christ without delay. There can be no doubt, Matthew’s response to Jesus was a choice that had attached to it, the reality of not going back! He left a lucrative profession, without any hope of returning to his old job if it didn’t work out. That may help us understand the commitment Jesus’ call requires. “…he arose and followed him.”
What Jesus said to Matthew remains the most urgent invitation in our time: “Follow Me.” This is more than just an acknowledgment of belief; more than just saying, “Lord, Lord,” (Matt. 7:21-27). To follow Him is to leave sin, believing in Christ, repenting and being baptized – to walk in newness of life. The cost of following Jesus, for Matthew, was great. The cost should be gladly paid by us, leaving all to follow Him. GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE. May God have mercy on us, heal our country Nigeria, bless and protect us all through Christ Our Lord Amen. Please, stay safe. Good morning and Happy New Month
Fr. Paul Karabari