Wednesday 21 September 2016

Bible Book:
Matthew

"Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have some to call not the righteous but sinners." (v. 13)

Matthew 9:9-13 Wednesday 21 September 2016

Psalm: Psalm 119:65-72

Background

'Righteous' and 'righteousness' are familiar words in the NewTestament, especially in the writings of St Paul (38 times inRomans alone) and here, in Matthew's Gospel (20 times). But themeaning of the Greek words that lie behind them is still debated byscholars. Does 'righteous' mean 'good' or 'virtuous'? Or does itmean 'innocent' or 'acceptable' in the sight of God? Or is itsimply 'doing the right thing'? Or maybe 'self-righteous' or'respectable'? What about 'belonging to God and God's people'? Itall depends on how, and where, the word is being used, of course.Here, in this familiar little story in Matthew, it is this lastmeaning that may help us most.

Another technical word used here is 'sinner'. This has aparticular meaning in 1st century Judaism - it refers to someonewhose occupation put them beyond the boundary of religious andsocial acceptability because they were regarded as 'unclean'. Allkinds of people, from shepherds (because they came into contactwith dead animals) to prostitutes were considered 'unclean', inmuch the same way that lepers were. They were regarded asnecessarily excluded from fully belonging to God's people, eventhough they may have fulfilled a necessary role in society. Theright sacrifices, however, could make them clean again. Taxcollectors were a particular, and extreme category, of 'sinner' -not only did they act as agents for the Roman overlords, but theyregularly handled 'unclean' coins, bearing the image of theemperor. For many strict Jews, including Pharisees, this was aboutas bad as it could get. For Jesus to sit down and eat with "taxcollectors and sinners" (v. 11) was to put himself beyond theboundary too.

In answer to his critics Jesus declared that his task was toredraw the boundaries so that those who were previously excludedwere now included - not on the basis of religious acceptability butsimply by being with him. Those "who are well" (v. 12) - faithful,observant Jews - already belonged to God's people. They were the'righteous'. Jesus' concern was for those who did not alreadybelong - the 'sick' and the 'sinners'.

To Ponder

  • Jesus quoted from¬†Hosea6:6: "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, theknowledge of God rather than burnt offerings". Why do you think hechose that particular verse? What does that say about'religion'?
  • Jesus' 'gospel message' came in just two words: "Follow me" (v.9). When the gospel (good news) is proclaimed by the Church, it israrely that simple. Why do you think that is?
  • Where would you put the boundaries for 'belonging to God andGod's people'? Why?
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