Abandon Yourself to Mercy!
A Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 9:9-13
Internet Image from Waleadenuga
Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matthew 9:13 NABRE)
In the Gospel today, we hear the beautiful account of the calling of St Matthew, as He recalled it. What must have made such a great impression on him was the incredible mercy that our Lord had for him. St Mathew is a man who is offered a second chance, an opportunity to renounce His former way of life, to turn his back on sin and follow Jesus. As one of the Apostles and an Evangelist, St Matthew followed the Lord who called him until his martyrdom. He who was shown such great mercy, could not help himself but to respond with mercy to all he encountered. St Matthew received mercy into his own heart, not to simply possess and marvel at, as one would a beautiful work of art but, he abandoned himself to mercy because of the mercy he was shown. Shouldn’t we do the same?
Jesus always enters into the midst of sin and sinners to call them, us, from darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). Remember the customs booth at the time of Jesus was a place devoid of mercy. The tax collector and Rome would get every penny they could from the taxpayer without regard to the hardship imposed. Jesus does not stand on the outside of the muck and mire of sin to call St Matthew. He goes to Matthew, the Tax Collector, at his place of work and calls him out. Then, He goes to his home to share a meal with him.
To share a meal with another is an extremely intimate act. One must sit down with the other, get to know them, and in humility, receive the gift of their company and a meal. For St Matthew, already ostracized from his community because of the nature of his profession, to have a famous rabbi sit with him for a meal would have been an incomprehensible act of reconciliation. This one act of mercy had a profound effect on St Matthew. Of course, this is scandalous for the religious leaders of the time, so obsessed with ritual purity and the associated law, much of it, manufactured. For them there was little room for mercy. Yet, there Jesus is. Who, and where, are you?
Jesus is teaching us something important about mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “mercy” as,
The loving kindness, compassion, or forbearance shown to one who offends. (CCC Glossary)
We all are in constant need of this mercy! St Paul writes, “there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22–23). We are all Mathew, sitting in the customs booth. We are all St Matthew being called by the author of mercy to come and share a meal. In this culture of judgement and self-righteousness that we find ourselves in today, there is no basis for Christians to be scandalized by the sins of others, since any one of us is capable of committing the vilest of sins unless God’s grace were to come to our aid. Aware of our own sin and the great mercy shown by God, who are we to refuse mercy to another, to draw near to the sinner, and dine with them?
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Everything we do ought to be done in mercy, through mercy, because of the great mercy we have received, and the mercy of which we are all in constant need. In the Gospel today, Jesus is not telling those who condemn Him that God does not want the sacrifices we offer him. He is stressing that every sacrifice should come from the heart, should flow from mercy, for charity which should imbue everything a Christian does.
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount,
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5: 7)
Happy are those who show mercy. Not only are we all St Matthew, being called by Christ in His infinite mercy to follow Him, we are also called to be Christ in the world. We, having shared a meal with Christ in the Eucharist, where He is the meal itself, and filled with His divine presence, are also called to go into the midst of sin and in great mercy call the sinner in love to follow our great and merciful Lord. We who have received mercy must bear mercy. Every day, make the decision to set aside the barriers of judgment and separation from those who sin against you and, abandoning yourself to mercy, go to them. As St John Paul II preached,
A simple act of abandonment is enough to overcome the barriers of darkness and sorrow, of doubt and desperation. The rays of your divine mercy restore hope, in a special way, to those who feel overwhelmed by the burden of sin. (St John Paul II, Homily 22 April 2001)
Have mercy, for we have all been shown great mercy.
… do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:30–32 NABRE)
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000. Print.
New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
St John Paul II. Homilies of Pope John Paul II (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014. Print.
Waleadenuga. (2020, March 31). Lord Have Mercy - Collection of Scriptures. YouTube. https ://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6RhWkghRys