21 September 2013

Matthew 9:9-13

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (v. 13)


Today's passage follows yesterday's calling of the first disciples (Matthew 4:18-22), as Matthew (or Levi) is added to Jesus' band of disciples. The significance of the reading is that today is the saint's day for Matthew. Whilst there are doubts about whether the same Matthew can be both disciple and author of the Gospel that bears his name, since the days of the early Church the tradition has been that the tax collector named in today's reading is the same person who wrote the Gospel of Matthew. So we honour Matthew and his contributions as apostle and evangelist on this day.

Was Matthew already well acquainted with Jesus? The story is told in such a way that Matthew, sitting behind his tax-collector's table, immediately goes after Jesus on being invited to "Follow me" (v. 9). Whether it was a spur of the moment decision or long-considered, Jesus must have been extremely charismatic which, for a leader, is a very useful trait; as long as charisms are used selflessly and not for self-glorification. Yesterday's reading concerning the temptations of Jesus remind us about that danger.

Later, sitting in Matthew's house with "tax collectors and sinners" (v. 10), Jesus is then challenged about the company he is keeping (verse 11). His reply that "those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick," reveals the consistent reconciliation theme of Jesus' ministry. To add authority to what he is saying, Jesus then quotes from the prophet Hosea: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).

Over the past week we have learned about Jesus as God's chosen leader. The Christ or Messiah is on earth to save humanity; Jesus fulfils the Old Testament prophecies, and uses his personal power and gifts in order that all may be reconciled to God. The key to the entire mission is love, or as Jesus says, "I desire mercy." And for that we may well want to add, 'Thanks be to God'.

To Ponder

  • A Christian understanding of reconciliation involves truth, justice, peace as well as mercy. In your opinion, is any of the four more important than the others? Why?
  • Matthew got up and followed Jesus. Is God's chosen leader calling you to do something different with your life? What might that be?

Bible notes author

Michael King

Michael King is a Methodist local preacher. From 2000-2011, he was leader of the Methodist Church's World Church Relationships team, and was the vice-president of the Methodist Conference in 2012/2013.