Second Sunday after Pentecost 6/11/23
Text: Matthew 9:9-13
I don't know if you have noticed, but Jesus spends an awful lot of time with the poor and what society considered to be sinners; those who lived openly sinful lives and those who did not follow the ritual and traditions of worship as set forth by the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Matthew was one of those people that, if you encountered, made a good Jew unclean, and thus, you avoided them like the plague. They were considered irredeemable, a waste of time.
I read a story this past week that I want to share with you, just a small part of this morning. A judge and a pastor were talking to each other. The topic of discussion was; can people change? The two were engaged in their ongoing debate about the possibility of personal transformation. The judge had been in office a long time and had seen many times the same people coming time after time. He had heard it all. He had seen so little change that he was, for the most part, pessimistic about the ability of a person to change.
The pastor knew that the judge was not a bigot, nor had a problem with anyone standing before him, for he had visited the judge's courtroom and watched him treat each of the accused persons brought before him with respect, courtesy, and, not infrequently, friendly familiarity. Few people escaped the system over which he presided, and those who did, he once explained, had either "moved, died, or just worn out!" His attitude was understandable.
"How can you believe in significant change?" he pushed. "Name one person, not in the Bible, that we both know who has changed - I mean, were genuinely transformed from immoral to moral, bad to good, complete nonbeliever to believer."
The pastor was silent for a moment as he thought about it. He knew that most of the changes in human life he saw were incremental at best, often barely perceptible, and he recognized that the judge could easily explain away anyone the pastor might suggest as an example. He could only say, "I have to believe people can escape whatever keeps them down and change into the person God wants them to be." I am in the business of hope."
I have told you this little story because not only do I believe that it reflects our view of life, but it reflects the views of the educated religious leaders of Jesus' time. So when they see Jesus summon a tax collector as a disciple and watch him eat with known sinners and tax collectors, the response is to shake their heads with disapproval. They, like so many people today, Christians included, more than likely said, "Those people will never be any different. Why is Jesus wasting his time with them?"
Jesus is not only undeterred by their lack of compassion and self-righteousness, I think he is fueled by it. He responds with two well-known sayings. He first quotes a passage from the Old Testament, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick." Then, for good measure, he instructs them with God's words from the Hebrew Bible, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice." He concludes his teaching moment with a clear statement of his mission: he has come to call sinners to God.
Just like today, those self-righteous religious people were not convinced that day or any other, for many of them continued to hound Jesus throughout his ministry. Their skepticism about the repentance of sinners and tax collectors ran unchecked through their conversations with him. Jesus was having none of it, for he was in the business of change. He truly desired mercy instead of sacrifice and other religious trappings, for he was mercy in the flesh.
Let us take a moment and look at verse 12, for without a good understanding of verse 12, we cannot truly understand verse 13. "Those who are well do not need a physician." That is true in life. We do not see our doctor unless we have a problem or think we do. When a person truly believes that the only way they can be cured is to listen to the doctor and trust them, the healing can begin.
Our spiritual lives are the same. Unless you genuinely believe you are suffering from the incurable disease of sin and spiritual emptiness, you will not be open to Jesus' healing words. To let Jesus do what he does best, you need to understand that he is the only cure. You have to get rid of all the baggage of works, of the belief that you have anything to do with pleasing God on your own, for we are told that even our best works are nothing but nasty bloody rags before God.
You must give up your worth before God so that he can come into your life, as he wants to, to change you. I think that is part of the problem some face. Although they know whatever change God makes in their life will be for the better, they do not want to let go of what is comfortable. And because of that, God cannot use them, and they end up missing the blessings that God wants them to have.
I am not saying that this life will be full of money, a beautiful house, and such things, for that might not be the blessing God wants to give you. His idea of blessing just might be peace in the situation you are now in. More than likely, the blessing you will receive is you will have a good relationship with God, knowing what your future holds. I am talking about having peace that cannot be taken away in life's worst storms. I am talking of mercy, as Jesus tells us in verse 13 of our text, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice.
Jesus is mercy personified. And because he is mercy, he requires mercy from those who call themselves followers of his. Just like last week, he is once more telling us that a person that calls themselves a follower of Jesus cannot separate their saving faith into compartments; the church and one for our regular life.
The Pharisees in Jesus' days could not comprehend this fact. And too often, neither do we. We want to escape the same-old constraints that are keeping us bound to bad habits, bad choices, and bad lives. But deep down inside, we are hopeless about the possibility of escape. And because of that, we have become focused on the impossibility of change in others.
With disdain and irritation, we too often look upon the sinners in our society, to our neighbors, thinking, "They'll never change. They're way too set in their ways." But Jesus requires a different response. He invites us to throw away our old worldly glasses and put on his so that we can see today what he saw that day; he called Matthew to follow him.
Only when you look through the lenses of God's Word will you see the same possibilities as Jesus saw in Matthew that day. It is only then that you will see in that unruly child, that person who is having family problems, that person who is battling the bottle or drugs, that moneygrubber, the lazy fool, the lustful reprobate, the same possibilities that Jesus saw in you when he called you to follow him.
But most importantly, only when you look through the lenses of God's Word will you see a reflection of yourself, a reflection of the self-centered sinner that lurks within all of us. Only then, when you know how similar you are in God's eyes, can you truly feel the love of Jesus and become the jubilant, holy companions of Christ that God wants us to be. Amen.