The first reading introduces us to a very strong warning to those "who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land." The Psalm reminds us of Jesus' response to the tempter's effort to get Jesus to use his power to feed himself: "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."
The gospel is very consoling. I like it that Jesus eats and drinks with sinners. As a sinner, it is very comforting for me to hear that Jesus is this comfortable with people like me. It is reassuring that he called Matthew to be one of his apostles - a fellow who was a tax collector, and therefore, a compromiser. Matthew was a Jew but he worked for Rome, extorting taxes from his own people.
Obviously, Matthew wasn't liked by the people. (They didn't like taxes then, either, and he wasn't even claiming to collect them for a worthy cause.) So, when Jesus called Matthew to follow him and then goes to Matthew's house for dinner that night, where there were others known to be sinners, it created quite a stir among the religious leaders. Jesus is himself breaking the Law here, and by eating with sinners he is rendering himself ritually unclean, that is, he is excommunicating himself from temple worship. He would ordinarily have to be purified before he could return to the temple, after such an infraction of the Law.
But, Jesus has an even greater surprise and stunning revelation for the religious folks - who tend to be fairly self-righteous in their own ritual purity. Jesus remembers the words of Hosea 6:6: "For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." So, Jesus says to the religious leaders:
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." It is hard for us to imagine how shocking this was to the religious folks who were judging Jesus - and, of course, the people with whom Jesus was enjoying dinner. They must have asked themselves, "Wait a minute! How could mercy be God's desire, more than sacrifice?" They must have been saying, at least in their hearts, "Being judgmental toward sinners is a sign of our fidelity to God. And we show our fidelity to God by not being sinners and by staying ritually pure and worshipping God through sacrifice, taught us in the Scriptures!"
Jesus was challenging their thinking about being religious and he is challenging ours. It is so consoling for all of us who are sinners. God doesn't love us because we earn it, deserve it, or prove how good we are. God loves us because we need loving, because we need forgiving, because we can't earn his love. And, because we have experienced ourselves as "love-sinners," - that is who we are - we are moved by grace to love other sinners, too. Being a sinner who is healed by God's love allows us, blesses us, to love the same way - through compassion, forgiveness, and accompaniment. This self-sacrificing love sends us to be for and with those who need loving - even those who don't seem to deserve it - starting with people in our families, in our churches, and those with whom we work.
How much grace would flow from each of us responding to the call to eat and drink with a few sinners tonight, and to enjoy them, affirm them and love them as Jesus did?
O Lord, may your grace, which brought this grace to our hearts and opened them, bring it to great fruitfulness in love and charity, in ways we can't even imagine. Amen.
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