Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Homily for the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

During the height of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to watch a new miniseries called The Chosen, a series that portrays the life of Jesus. The first season was mostly about the calling of the Apostles and Jesus making the necessary preparations to begin His public ministry. But one of my favorite individuals in the miniseries is Matthew. The creators really did a great job casting him. They portray him to be an OCD accountant who is incredibly meticulous at ensuring that the Jews are up-to-date with their taxes. And despite being one of the most hated people in the Holy Land because he was a tax-collector, Matthew did not let that stop him from doing his job. I think that’s exactly why Jesus chose Matthew to be one of His disciples.

Jesus knew who each of his disciples and apostles were. He knew what gifts they brought with them, what unique talents they had, what skills they possessed. He knew their potential, what they were capable of doing to help spread the Gospel to all nations. As a Jew, an educated man and a tax-collector for the Roman government, Matthew would have likely been versed in Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. And Jesus knew that there was going to be a need for His words to be recorded at some point along the way. Who better to do that than a man with the credentials of Matthew?

But Matthew’s abilities weren’t the only reason why Jesus chose him as one of His apostles. Jesus chose him because I think Matthew was one who needed to encounter God’s love and mercy the most. Because he was ostracized from the Jewish community, Matthew was probably one who endured a lot of internal suffering. He was likely shunned by members of his own family. The Jews viewed tax collectors as traitors to the Jewish faith, which meant Matthew likely would have also been banned from worshipping in the temple. In other words, Matthew was an outcast in plain sight. And we know that one of Jesus’ primary missions was to reach out to those who were on the fringes.

Jesus dining with Matthew in his home would have been scandalous to the Jews. “In ancient Judaism, table fellowship expressed covenant solidarity. Shared food and drink symbolized a shared life. So by sharing a meal with Matthew, Jesus identifies Himself with these covenant outsiders and welcomes them into His kingdom.”1 He doesn’t let the restrictions of Jewish religious guidelines dictate how He shows the Father’s love. That’s the meaning of His statement: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” He was calling out the Jews for how they were allowing the Law to interfere with bringing the love of God to those who most needed it. And that’s the same reminder Jesus offers us today.

For us, it may not be religious guidelines that are getting in the way of bringing God’s love to others, but it may be the perception of friends and family. “What will people think if I do this for someone else?” Or it may be our preconceived notions about certain groups of people that prevent us from being able to show God’s love. Whatever the case might be, Jesus is inviting us today to put aside those things and stop allowing outside influences to interfere with how we bring Him to those who most need it. As we receive Him today, let’s ask for the grace to be able to recognize what prevents us from showing mercy and love to others. May we ask Him to give us the courage to put those things aside and to love as He loved, and to see others as He sees them. 

Image: The Chosen, Season 1, Episode 7 Poster Art, Pure Flix.

1 Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, “Jesus’ Healings” in The Gospel of Matthew of the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 134.

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, Indialantic.

One thought on “Mercy, Not Sacrifice

  1. We certainly need to more about Matthew and his relationship with our Lord. Matthew can be a model for many in our society today.

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