Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.

In his confrontation with the Pharisees Jesus quoted the Prophet Hosea, who was never shy of confrontation; and we should consider the setting in which Saint Matthew has placed this ancient formula.

First we notice it’s in the house of Saint Matthew where Jesus and his disciples have repaired for dinner. In the gospels a meal always reminds us of heaven. If we’re able to sit down at table and eat without quarreling or contention we’re halfway there!

The celebration of a meal begins with the carnal fact that the human being needs to eat; it’s an animal activity. But the meal is also a human activity as we share food equally among us without discrimination or preference, and as we enjoy one another’s company. The momentum from animal feeding to human sharing directs us toward heavenly delight. In the comfort and ease of shared gustatory pleasure and enlightening conversation we sense the company of the saints.

Secondly, we notice the pleasant banquet is invaded by quarrelsome Pharisees. They see the religious company of Jesus and his disciples sitting down with certain unsavory characters and they don’t like the leveling effects of the meal. The sacred and profane should never mix; the latter will render the former unclean.

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” sounds like a thunderclap in this stormy setting. This is not distant thunder; this one is right overhead, the kind where we see the flash and hear the boom instantaneously. It shakes the house and trembles the bones.

Pope Francis’ call for mercy has sounded like a thunderclap throughout the Church and into the secular world of economics, politics and war. He would put mercy ahead of the rules and regulations and SOPs that govern our behavior like so many overbearing Pharisees. The first question in any difficult situation is, “What would Mercy do?”

I should ask myself not, “What’s the least I can do?” but, “What should I do?”

The rule of law is a good thing; it’s far better than chaos. But law is a human creation; it expresses the preferences and desires of those who can make and enforce the law. It is not necessarily just, fair or reasonable. A democratic society flatters itself by thinking, “We have formulated these laws to suit the needs of all the people.” But the instrument is never perfect and that flattery cannot hear the cries of those who suffer its unfairness.

Jesus’ demand must always be a goad and gadfly, urging us to examine and reexamine our beliefs, attitudes and behavior. Good enough is not good enough.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.