Lectio Divina

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

At table with sinners and publicans,
Jesus reveals the mercy of God
Matthew 9: 9-13

1. Opening prayer

Spirit of truth, sent by Jesus to guide us to the whole truth, enlighten our minds so that we may understand the Scriptures. You who overshadowed Mary and made her fruitful ground where the Word of God could germinate, purify our hearts from all obstacles to the Word. Help us to learn like her to listen with good and pure hearts to the Word that God speaks to us in life and in Scripture, so that we may observe the Word and produce good fruit through our perseverance.

2. Reading

a) The context:

Matthew 8:1 to 9:34 deals with the authority of Jesus that emanates not only from his words (theme of the preceding chapters 5 to 7), but also from his actions. Jesus teaches with authority and acts with authority. This acting with authority is clearly seen in the ten miracles told in this passage. However, it is also clear through his attitude that there is a distinction between the authority of Jesus and that of the Jewish religious authorities. The call of Matthew, a publican (9:9), introduces two controversies on the behaviour of Jesus: one with the Pharisees on his attitude towards publicans and sinners (9:10-13) and one with the disciples of John the Baptist on fasting (9:14-17). Jesus turns each of these into an occasion to present himself as the superior and definitive authority. He is the healer of humanity (9:12-13) and the messianic spouse (9:15).

Matthew 9: 9-13b) The text:

As Jesus was walking on from there he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him. Now while he was at table in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?' When he heard this he replied, 'It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice. And indeed I came to call not the upright, but sinners.'

3. A moment of prayerful silence

so that the Word of God may enter into us and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions

to help us in our personal reflection.

a) How many groups are present in this scene and what do they represent?
b) How does Jesus see his relationship with each of these groups?
c) With which group does he most identify himself?
d) What is Matthew’s role in this scene?
e) What kind of feelings or reactions do the words of Jesus arouse in the Pharisees?

5. A key to the reading

for those who wish to go deeper into the text.

a) Publicans and sinners:

The publicans gathered taxes on behalf of the Romans. They had a bad reputation. In fact, they were considered "impure" because their work placed them in contact with pagans and they had to handle money with pagan images and inscriptions. Besides, they were often exploiters and thieves.
For the orthodox Jews of Jesus’ time, "sinners" meant, first of all, pagans, but also Jews who did not care about the subtleties of the Law as interpreted by the Scribes. Publicans and sinners were among the most hated of people by the Pharisees and by orthodox Jews.

b) Sitting at table:

In any culture, and certainly among Orientals, to sit together at table is a sign of communion.
In the parallel text in Mark (2:13-17) Jesus sits at table in "his" house, but the Greek text is ambiguous. We do not know whether this means Jesus’ house or that of the publican who was called to follow Jesus. In the parallel text of Luke (5: 27-32) it is the publican, now disciple, who prepares a banquet in his house for Jesus who is invited together with his colleagues. Matthew simply says that "he was at dinner in the house", with the understanding that it is the house of Jesus, the house where he lived from the time he left Nazareth and went to live in Capharnaum (Mt 4:13). Thus, according to Matthew, it is Jesus who welcomes the publicans and the sinners into his house, as if to anticipate the messianic banquet of salvation offered to all.

c) Pharisees:

The Pharisees were a religious lay group in the second century before Christ. They were assiduously kept the exact observance of the Law of Moses, not only as written and contained in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture or the Old Testament), but also as conveyed orally by their successors in the early centuries of the Christian era and later written down. According to Joseph Flavio, they were the most influential group during the time of Jesus and perhaps that is why many of the controversies mentioned in the Gospels involve them. These controversies certainly reflect the conflict that arose after the death of Jesus, at the time of the writing of the Gospels, between the growing Church and Judaism from which it had detached itself. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that Jesus himself clashed with the Pharisees on several points of interpretation of the Law and on behaviour that seemed scandalous to them.

d) What I want is mercy not sacrifice:

In his answer to the Pharisees who criticise him, Jesus quotes a phrase from the prophet Hosea, "What I want is love not sacrifice, knowledge of God not holocausts" (6:6). In the wake of other prophets (see for example 1 Sam 15:22; Am 5:21-27; Is 1:10-20; Jer 7:1-15.21-28), Hosea insists on the futility of external cult if this is not accompanied by obedience to the covenant. The word "mercy" or "love" translates the Hebrew hesed, which points to the love-fidelity relationship between God and his people. The "knowledge of God", which Hosea parallels with "mercy", implies obedience to the will of God as expressed in the Law; it is to know in order to put into practice.
Jesus insists much on the transparency of our relationship with God that cannot be reduced to mere external observance. Here he insinuates that the Pharisees must not be satisfied with the minute observance of the Law. What God wants from his faithful is the internalisation of his merciful love towards all.

6. Psalm 103

Hymn to the Lord, rich in mercy

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.

The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor requite us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
so the Lord pities those who fear him.

For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the Lord
is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
hearkening to the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

7. Closing prayer

O God, rich in mercy, because of the great love with which you have loved us, from being dead because of our sins, you have given us life again in Christ. Christ made man deigned to sit at table with us poor sinners. He shared our state even to crying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" By his words and life he revealed to us your merciful love that seeks us constantly, bends over our misery, binds our wounds, bears us on its shoulders and rejoices at our return.
Father, give us your Spirit to open our hearts to the grace of your pardon and to convince us of you merciful love. Let us experience your saving grace so that we may never think of ourselves as just and better than others, but that we may learn to be merciful towards all as you are merciful towards us.
We ask this in the name of Christ, our Lord. Amen.


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Last revised: 3 June 2002