Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Sunday Gospel Reading and Reflection (June 11)

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
9:9 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.

9:10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.

9:11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

9:12 But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

9:13 Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

9:18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live."

9:19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.

9:20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak,

9:21 for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well."

9:22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." and instantly the woman was made well.

9:23 When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion,

9:24 he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him.

9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.

9:26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

If I want to follow Jesus, I need to listen hard: "God desires mercy not sacrifice." Class dismissed. My homework? Learn what it means that God is merciful. Compassion is the source of Jesus' ministry.* The essence of mercy is compassion, kindness, forgiveness. Biblically, mercy is exhibited by a superior to an inferior. For example, it is within one's power to punish, but one chooses to show mercy instead. Another meaning is tied to compassion, similar to a mother's visceral love for her children. 

Jesus shows his compassion to tax collectors and sinners, a women with the issue of blood, and a young girl thought to be dead. (Jesus says that "she is sleeping.") "Suddenly," occurs twice in the reading, to show how consistently Jesus embodies the mercy he teaches: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7) 

In Matthew, the first references to "church" appear. Have the leaders in the church of Matthew's time replaced the Pharisees of Jesus' ministry? Think of the barriers that Matthew's church must have negotiated in sharing the Gospel of God's mercy and compassion. The split between churches and synagogues is happening large scale, but the rifts in communities also divorces families from each other, as most Jews followed the way of the Rabbis, while only a few of Jewish heritage choose the way of Jesus. 

Often those outside the church see more clearly when self- identified Christians fail to love and behave mercifully. Jesus' words to Pharisees apply to anyone who claims to love God: "Go and learn about God's mercy." I cannot be both self-righteous and merciful. I must choose.**

There are no people outside of the mercy of the Lord. There are no less-than-human persons, nor those deemed deserving while others are not. There are no barriers to God's love in Jesus Christ.  If I claim to follow Jesus, the main thing that makes me holy and distinct is not the purity of my worship, who I include and exclude,  who is right and who is wrong, but rather, having been a recipient of God's unearned unfailing mercy embodied in Jesus, how am I pursued by mercy? How will I pursue mercy?

*See also, Matthew 12:7. This particular phrase is unique to Matthew. Matthew mentions Jesus' "compassion" eight times in his Gospel. 
**The Parable of the Unforgiving Steward (Matthew 18:23-35) seems to be a explanation, in story form, of "Blessed are the merciful."  

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