Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Desire Mercy

September 21, 2011

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

By Colleen O'Sullivan

Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

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.” (Matthew 9:9-13)


Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)


Following Jesus is often downright difficult. In today’s Gospel reading, he challenges the Pharisees to reflect on words they would have been very familiar with from Hosea 6:6 – “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The Pharisees couldn’t get over Jesus associating with Matthew, a lowly, despised tax collector, and eating with sinners and others they considered riffraff. The Pharisees took pride in observing the letter of the religious law. And, when we stop to think about it, isn’t that the easier way? Just know the commandments, the rules and regulations and abide by them. We really don’t have to put anything much of ourselves into doing that. Being law-abiding or legalistic doesn’t involve our hearts.

But it’s our hearts that Jesus is interested in. Jesus wants more from us than perfunctory prayers, routine attendance at Mass, and an outward appearance of uprightness. He says he desires mercy – loving kindness and compassion – toward others, exactly what he offers Matthew when he calls him to follow. Tax collectors collaborated with the Romans, the oppressors of the Jewish people. They made their living not just by collecting the taxes owed, but by cheating and extorting money from their fellow Jews. Yet Jesus had such love in his heart that he could see beyond what Matthew had been to what he could be – a loyal disciple. He reached out to him.

It’s much more difficult to be merciful to one another than to merely follow a set of rules. Paul talks about living as one in the Lord. He says we are to be gentle, patient and loving toward one another or, in other words, merciful. On that score, many of us have a long way to go. Even in church, we place labels on other people and, in a manner of speaking, turn them into outcast tax collectors. Liberal or conservative? Charismatic or not? Democrat or Republican? For or against the anticipated language changes in the Mass? In favor of traditional or contemporary music in church? Etc., etc. Labels can be so divisive.

Better to put all that aside and thank God, who is merciful to us and asks us to extend that same mercy to our brothers and sisters.


As you pray today, reflect on ways in which God has been merciful to you and think about ways you could share that compassionate love with others.