Diana and I have a couple of aids to assist with daily morning prayer together. One of them, which will probably be quite well known to New Zealanders using this site, is the B.R.F. study notes in ‘New Daylight’ We were particularly taken, today, by the comment made by Lucy Moore, Associate Missioner for ‘Fresh Expressions‘ in the U.K., on just three verses of Scripture in St. Matthew’s Gospel – Matt. 9:10-13 – which reads as follows:
‘While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners‘ came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’ ?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means” ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. ‘
Lucy’s comments, which follow the reading, are as follows:
‘If I had been around during Jesus’ ministry, I would probably have been cheering on the Pharisees. They were so holy! They get a bad press in the gospels, but they were the great religious role models of their day, super-spiritual, steeped in prayer and with vast reservoirs of wisdom to draw on. They studied the Scriptures to a degree that most of us cannot imagine and many had a deep desire to serve God ‘properly’.
‘I can only hope that the questions they hurled at Jesus and his disciples came from a sincere wish to do the right thing in God’s eyes, rather than out of a desire to trip Jesus up. Here he was, this amateur from the back of beyond, eating with outsiders, untouchables, giving a view of God and the faith that might bring the whole structure tumbling down, unless the guardians remained vigilant. Of course, he should be challenged!
Jesus has a bigger view than just keeping to the rules, however. He sees not only the letter but the spirit of the law, because he himself is not only the logos, the Word of the Law, but also the Spirit of the Law. He deliberately seeks out people whose lives are in such a mess that the name ‘sinners’ has to suffice to describe their depravity.
‘You can imagine Jesus looking up from his eating couch beside an unrepentant tax collector or a sniggering working girl perched by his feet with a wine jug – to see those disapproving faces looking down in him! Even so, he does not humiliate them. “Go and learn”, he urges them, seeing the limits of their understanding – but in complete confidence that God’s love encompasses them as well as the sinners.’
I must say I, and I think Diana too, felt that this commentary, generous as it was to the Pharisees, was more than generous to the tax collectors and sinners – but not more generous than the attitude of Jesus himself. If only we could emulate him, in our treatment of those we might deem to be unworthy of the ‘great love of God as revealed in the Son’
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch