Lectio: St. Matthew, the Evangelist - Mt 9:9-13
St. Matthew, the Evangelist
1) Opening prayer
You call Your children
to walk in the light of Christ.
Free us from darkness
and keep us in the radiance of Your truth.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - 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 Sermon on the Mountain takes chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The purpose of the narrative part of chapters 8 and 9 is to show how Jesus put into practice what He had just taught. In the Sermon on the Mountain, He teaches acceptance (Mt 5:23-25. 38-42.43). Now He puts it into practice accepting the lepers (Mt 8:1-4), the foreigners (Mt 8:5-13), the women (Mt 8:14-15), the sick (Mt 8:16-17), the possessed (Mt 8:28-34), the paralytics (Mt 9:1-8), the tax collectors (Mt 9:9-13), the unclean persons (Mt 9:20-22), etc. Jesus breaks the norms and the customs which excluded and divided persons, that is with the fear and the lack of faith (Mt 8:23-27) the laws on purity (9:14-17), and He clearly says which are the requirements for those who want to follow Him. They should have the courage to abandon many things (Mt 8:18-22). In the same way in the attitudes and in the practice of Jesus we see in what the Kingdom and the perfect observance of the Law of God consists.
• Matthew 9:9: The call to follow Jesus. The first people called to follow Jesus are four fishermen, all Jewish (Mt 4:18-22). Now Jesus calls a tax collector, considered a sinner and treated as an unclean person by the community of the most observant of the Pharisees. In the other Gospels, this tax collector is called Levi. Here, his name is Matthew, which means gift of God or given by God. The communities, instead of excluding the tax collector and of considering him unclean, should consider him a Gift of God for the community, because his presence makes the community become a sign of salvation for all! Like the first four who were called, in the same way also Matthew, the tax collector, leaves everything that he has and follows Jesus. The following of Jesus requires breaking away from many things. Matthew leaves the tax office, his source of revenue and follows Jesus!
• Matthew 9:10: Jesus sits at table with sinners and tax collectors. At that time the Jews lived separated from the tax collectors and sinners and they did not eat with them at the same table. The Christian Jews should break away from this isolation and sit at table with the tax collectors and with the unclean, according to the teaching given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mountain, the expression of the universal love of God the Father (Mt 5:44-48). The mission of the communities was that of offering a place to those who did not have it. But this new law was not accepted by all. In some communities, persons coming from paganism, even if they were Christians, were not accepted around the same table (cf. Ac 10:28; 11:3; Ga 2:12). The text of today’s Gospel shows us Jesus who sits at table with tax collectors and sinners in the same house, around the same table.
• Matthew 9:11: The question of the Pharisees. Jews were forbidden to sit at table with the tax collectors and with sinners, but Jesus does not follow this prohibition. Rather He becomes a friend to them. The Pharisees seeing the attitude of Jesus, ask the disciples: “Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” This question may be interpreted as an expression of their desire to know why Jesus acts in that way. Others interpret the question like a criticism of Jesus’ behavior, because for over five hundred years, from the time of the slavery in Babylon until the time of Jesus, the Jews had observed the laws of purity. This secular observance became a strong sign of identity. At the same time it was a factor of their separation in the midst of other peoples. Thus, because of the laws on purity, they could not nor did they succeed to sit around the same table to eat with tax collectors. To eat with tax collectors meant to get contaminated, to become unclean. The precepts of legal purity were rigorously observed, in Palestine as well as in the Jewish communities of the Diaspora. At the time of Jesus, there were more than five hundred precepts to keep purity. In the years 70’s, at the time when Matthew wrote, this conflict was very actual.
• Matthew 9:12-13: “Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice. Jesus hears the question of the Pharisees to the disciples and He answers with two clarifications: the first one is taken from common sense: “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick”. The second one is taken from the Bible: “Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases Me, not sacrifice”. Through these clarifications, Jesus makes explicit and clarifies His mission among the people: “I have not come to call the upright but sinners”. Jesus denies the criticism of the Pharisees; He does not accept their arguments, because they came from a false idea of the Law of God. He Himself invokes the Bible: “Mercy is what pleases Me, not sacrifice”. For Jesus, mercy is more important than legal purity. He refers to the prophetic tradition to say that mercy has greater value for God than all sacrifices (Ho 6:6; Is 1:10-17). God has profound mercy, and is moved before the failures of His people (Ho 11:8-9).
4) Personal questions
• Today, in our society, who is marginalized and excluded? Why? In our community, do we have preconceptions or prejudices? Which? Which is the challenge which the words of Jesus present to our community?
• Jesus asks the people to read and to understand the Old Testament which says: “Mercy is what pleases Me and not sacrifice”. What does Jesus want to tell us with this today?
5) Concluding Prayer
Blessed are those who observe His instructions,
Blessed are those who observe His instructions,
who seek Him with all their hearts,
and, doing no evil, who walk in His ways. (Ps 119:2-3)