Today's Scripture readings were from Hosea 6: 3-6 (what is required is love not sacrifice), Romans 4:18-25 (Abraham as an example of true faith) and Matthew 9:9-13. The homily our Priest gave was from the text of Matthew, which reads,
"As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth 1, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, 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, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
Such words as these from our Lord stand as an immortal witness of the intent and mission of the Church. Our priest made this reality vivid in the minds of the congregation when he began his homily, "Good morning sinners", wherein the people mildly responded, some a bit wearily. "I said good morning sinners" replied the priest, this time more loudly and with a bigger grin on his face, "Good morning" the congregation responded louder but still tentatively. Our priest went on to give a masteful homily on the words of St. Matthew and the application for us, namely the Church is made up of sinners in need of a Savior, and that Savior is none other than the God-man Christ Jesus 2.
I think that in today's day and age we miss the import of these events. We are so used to the tidiness of our Church's and the spotless robes of those who attend. I remember once attending a church where there was some rather blatant elitism occurring. If you "had it going on" with a good job, a nice house, the perfect wife and kids - you had a name and a position with the pastor and the elders, both sociologically and in time, ecclesiologically. But is this what we see going on in the nascent gatherings of Jesus? No. Rather, He called the worse of the worse to assemble and have fellowship around Him and His disciples. Tax collectors, women, women prostitutes and so on. These were the bottom of the barrel in Jewish society, monsters, scum, the pariah's. It was a complete reversal of accepted religious norms of the day 3. But Jesus was known for that 4. Instead of this fiasco, the Pharisees expected a strong Messiah that would crush the Romans, sinners, and the filth of society alike.
Thus, we see that Jesus draws on the formula from Hosea 6 (the readings in the Missal tying togather nicely), "πορευθέντες δὲ μάθετε" the rabbinical technical term of those who needed to go back to the chalkboard so to speak and study and learn the true meaning of the Sacred Text. This was a double slap in the face for the religious scholars of the time. Not only have they misunderstood the role of the Messiah but they have also misread the essence of the precious law and the prophets.
In conclusion, this story as recounted by all three synoptic gospels gives much comfort to us - gentile sinners. Our Shepherd calls his sick and withered sheep. And like sheep with dirty and filthy coats we bring nothing of value other than our stench and the few flies that surround us.
1. Note that tax collectors at the time were fluent in the languages of the populace by trade, in this case Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. That St. Matthew was fluent in all three and wrote his gospel thoroughly familiar with these stands to reason, (Cf. Robert Gundry, (The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew's Gospel with Special Reference to the Messianic Hope) ).
2. Our priest went on to note that the only human exceptions to sinlessness was of course Jesus Himself and Mary the Mother of God.
3. Not too mention all the ceremonial defilement that incurred with associating and eating with these dregs for Jews in the first century.
4. Let us take caution here and not fall into the trap that many do today. Jesus was not against tradition or God's holy law but He was against the hypocritical or wrong uses of it.