Witnessing to God’s love 11 (read by Hilary Eveleigh)
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Who has Jesus come to save? Who are the beneficiaries of the gospel? Our instinctive response would be: ‘Everyone’. But the passage above suggests a rather different answer.
The Pharisees are concerned that Jesus is morally compromised by fraternising with those recognised by society as sinners. In doing so he undermines their own religious values which require a clear social distinction being maintained between the good and the bad. Jesus responds that the people with whom he is eating are precisely the community for whom he has come. Some theologians commenting on this text have suggested that although Jesus has a ‘preferential option’ for sinners, he has in fact come for both the well and the sick. But this neat qualification effectively negates Jesus’ argument. As a physician he is dedicated to healing the sick. He has not come for the righteous, but sinners.
It is a theme that is often repeated in the Scriptures.
For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. (Lk 19:10)
His focus is on the lost – the wandering sheep, the missing coin, the wayward son. It seems to me that those who are most deeply offended by the plain meaning of Jesus’ words in our reading today are those who count themselves among the healthy or the righteous. But this is surely an unhelpful way to view ourselves.
It is only as we number ourselves among the ‘sick’ that we can receive healing. It is only those who know themselves to be lost who will be found. God will justify the ungodly or unrighteous not the self-righteous and self-satisfied. The blessings of the kingdom are reserved for those who are poor in spirit or meek. It is in knowing ourselves that we come to know God.
(A prayer of Augustine of Hippo) Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know you, And desire nothing save only you…. Let me accept whatever happens as from you. Let me banish self and follow you, And ever desire to follow you. Let me fly from myself and take refuge in you, That I may deserve to be defended by you. Let me fear for myself, let me fear you, And let me be among those who are chosen by you. Let me distrust myself and put my trust in you. Let me be willing to obey for the sake of you. Let me cling to nothing save only to you, And let me be poor because of you. Look upon me, that I may love you. Call me that I may see you, And for ever enjoy you.