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The call of Matthew

Gospel Reading: Mt 9:9-13
As Jesus passed by he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”


This is the question of the Pharisees. Jesus overhears them and responds in three ways: with a proverb, with a quotation from the prophets, and with a statement about the nature of his ministry (vv 12-13). The proverb “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” points to Jesus’ healing and saving role. He is a physician of the Kingdom of heaven, and his work as a physician is among the sick – in body, mind, and spirit – to restore them to full health. The quotation from the prophets, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (v 13, cf Hos 6:6), seems, at first, out of place, since sacrifice is not at issue in this story. However, the quotation is apt, because it is drawn from a section of Hosea describing God as a loving and merciful healer of Israel (cf Hos 6:1). Regarding the statement, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”(v 13), Jesus has here turned the customary reading of the Old Testament on its head. Over against the repeated message that “sinners [will not arise] in the assembly of the just” (Ps 1:5) and that God loves “justice and [hates] wrongdoing” (Ps 45:8), Jesus announces that his ministry is on the reverse.

“Restore to me the gladness of your salvation… I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you” (Ps 51:14-15).

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