“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”

Today, as in Jesus’ time, the self-righteous have sought to marginalize those they perceive as sinners. In Matthew 9:9-13, Jesus addresses the issue.

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.

There is a controversy in the Roman Catholic Church now, begun by Pope Francis when he called for the welcoming of LGBT Catholics into the Church and then again when he called to consider allowing certain remarried divorced Catholics to receive Holy Communion and burial at death. The tradition has been to shun both groups — LGBT Catholics and divorced Catholics — because they are considered sinners. Neither may receive Holy Communion and neither may be buried by the Church. Pope Francis has said the Church needs to rethink this.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew partially explains why. Holy Communion is not a reward for being good, as one Catholic writer said it. It is an encounter with Christ to heal and strengthen. Who needs healing and strength more than a sinner? So why, then, would the Church deny that healing and strength to someone they consider a sinner?

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners,” He said. Then let Christ do His work. “Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Heed His words on mercy over sacrifice.

This is not meant to be a posting on Catholic Church practices. It’s meant to show how Jesus’ words apply to our everyday lives. There are people in our lives who are hurting, who need the loving encounter with Christ. And people whose job it is to minister to them in the name of Christ are denying them that. Not just priests and bishops and cardinals, but everyday people, who can be lay ministers. People who judge others, as Jesus has commanded them not to. People who put their own perceived righteousness above that of others.

There is scientific evidence that being LGBT is written into someone’s DNA, not a “lifestyle choice.” If that’s so, then it’s nature’s choice. Yes, it’s written in Leviticus that a man may not lay in bed with another man as with a woman and that it is an abomination. It is also written that believers should not eat shell fish and other seafood that doesn’t have fins and gills, should not eat pigs (e.g., ham and bacon), should not wear tattoos, and not do dozens of other things. And at the end of the chapter (chapter 18) in Leviticus that spells all these don’ts out, it says, “These are all an abomination.” So how do you square your “lifestyle choices” that are an abomination against someone else’s? How do you condemn someone else for offending God when you offend God by your own choices?

This is not to condemn you. This is not to judge you. This is to remind you that Jesus says, “Learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice” and “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners,” and then make you ponder, who are the sinners? And then wonder, who should be denied an encounter with Jesus the Christ — in fact, who should seek Him out more urgently?

Jesus spent a lot time in the Gospels battling the scribes and Pharisees, whom he called hypocrites and who failed to grasp His central teachings on love and mercy and compassion. Are we more Christlike or more like the scribes and Pharisees? Maybe it’s time to get out of Jesus’ way and let Him do His merciful work on those He seeks to heal.


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