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Go and Learn What This Means

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Matthew was a tax collector.

He was Jew working for Rome, collecting hard earned income from people with meager resources For the maintenance of an empire that cared little for the Jews.

Tax collectors were generally considered to be traitors. But a rabbi named Jesus invited him to become one of his disciples

A rabbi who knew him as he was, and wanted him anyway

A rabbi who came not for the holy people, but for the regular people, the people who needed it.

Jesus’ choice of companions raised more than a few eyebrows, particularly among the Pharisees. The Pharisees were experts at following God’s law

They were so good at being good, They could not understand why Jesus hung out with such a hopelessly lost crowd. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked.

Jesus answered them:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick [do].

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus’ words have echoed loudly to me this week.

My daughter Stephanie has been preparing for a big cabaret.

It’s a paid gig with a real band, and our whole family is supporting the effort.

Singing spreads coronavirus easily,

So to be as safe as possible, our back deck has been the main rehearsal space.

As the gig has drawn near, the rehearsals have gotten more frequent—

Last weekend, Stephanie was out there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.

On Monday morning I got an email entitled: Please consider your Music and Neighbors.

Uh oh.

It was from our neighbors directly in back of us. They had once asked us to turn down the volume because their young children were trying to go to sleep.

The email now described how the music was blasting into their house, even with the windows closed. Neighbors from other streets were telling them to turn their music down, but it wasn’t them – it was us.

Now we were aware that Stephanie was loud—

She is a trained singer, and musical theatre style belting is designed to cut through a crowd.

After the bedtime complaint, we had started scheduling rehearsals earlier in the day.

But we really had no idea just how loud it was, or widespread the complaint might be.

I replied to the email, apologizing and saying that I had been unaware of just how disturbing it was. I invited him to call me directly about it. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but we listened to each other, and agreed to have a face to face conversation later in the day to iron out a plan for future rehearsals that would work for both families.

Still shaky from that emotional conversation, I headed to the grocery store.

Usually I see other people in the grocery a little like video game obstacles

that I need to navigate around. But this time as I looked around at the other customers behind their masks, I began to imagine all the challenges they were going through in this upended time we are all living in.

I found myself being usually patient and gracious—

Letting others go first, waiting until someone else was finished selecting their item instead of breezing past. I found myself wanting to smile and to be kind to these beleaguered people, and I realized:

I need someone to smile at me.

I can hurt people without even knowing it.

I need forgiveness and mercy.

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick [do].

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.”

I can imagine that these words sounded terrible to the Pharisees.

They had a lot invested in being righteous.

But I bet they sounded like the best thing Matthew had heard in a long time.

Righteousness for him was completely out of the question

He was a rotten scoundrel working for the Romans.

But Jesus wasn’t looking for righteous people

Jesus was coming for people like Matthew

For people who were sick

For people who had wronged others and felt far from God

For people who knew they weren’t all that good

and would accept the mercy and forgiveness Jesus offered.

To be honest, a lot of the time I am like the Pharisees—on top of things and in control.

I don’t need mercy—I feel good enough as I am. Righteous!

It’s a type of functional atheism – I might say I believe in Jesus, but I act like I don’t need his forgiveness.

And if I don’t need forgiveness, I don’t really see why anyone else should need it either.

If someone is messing up, my standard presumption is that they should pull themselves together and do better!

But when I have erred, when I have hurt someone else or contributed to wrong,

then I know that sometimes I just can’t do better.

I need forgiveness and mercy, and it humbles me.

That’s what happened to me in that conversation with my neighbor.

I saw how self-absorbed we had been

How even though we didn’t mean to, we’d caused another family upset and difficulty

How we needed to say I’m sorry and figure out a way to meet in the middle.

But the part that really sticks with me is that

The humility borne of this encounter with my neighbor had spillover effects:

I noticed those people in the grocery as if for the first time,

And in small ways reached out to them with what I needed myself.

I have seen this pattern of generosity in others:

The person on a fixed income makes it a habit to give to panhandlers

The person in recovery takes a call at any time of day or night to keep their friend sober

A woman who always lets the other car go first, Because she lives on a busy street

and waits every day for a break in the traffic to get out of her driveway.

It seems that the knowledge of our own need for mercy rekindles within us compassion for others.

Jesus wanted the Pharisees to learn something

Quoting prophet Hosea, he spoke of God’s intention for the world: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. The word Mercy can also be translated ‘loving kindness’ or ‘steadfast love’

Sacrifice was a quick fix, the prescribed temple solution for sin.

What God really wants though is not a quick fix, but relationship— with us, and with one another. Mercy, loving kindness, steadfast love – those are all descriptions of human faithfulness and care, They are description of relationships.

Our need for mercy actually connects us to God’s fundamental desire for us,

For our good and our joy.

When I spoke to our neighbor face to face, we came to a compromise

We’d move the rehearsals with the instrumentalists to a church parking lot which wasn’t so residential And they’d welcome music any Friday night until 10, because that’s stay up late night at their house. It seemed like a good trade. But even better was the peace offering my neighbor suggested - a concert of Disney songs for his kids, Sung by Stephanie

It’s an opportunity to know our neighbors better, to build a positive relationship.

Today we celebrate our namesake, St Matthew.

I think he is a great role model for us.

He claimed his rightful place by Jesus’ side not because of good deeds or extraordinary effort But because he saw that he needed what Jesus had to offer,

and was ready to give himself to follow Jesus.

He started a whole new life.

When we get in touch with our need, a whole new world of possibility opens for us too

For relationship and healing, for good and for joy,

for God’s loving desire for us to take hold and to grow in us,

that we may share God’s amazing generosity with others.

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