Q322: In today’s gospel (Mt 9:9-13), Jesus socializes with people that the Jewish religious culture identified as “sinners” – those ‘morally suspect’ because of failure to observe Jewish regulations, among other things. Does that mean I can socialize with anyone I want to?
No, it does not have that meaning of unlimited, unaccountable freedom. One must be clear about one’s intention and the chosen “end” of the action. Jesus was not in this particular social circle at this time because he wanted to “carouse” with a bunch of party people. Therefore his intention or purpose of going to Matthew’s home was to facilitate the “end” of that act, which he clearly spells out for us. Jesus was there to evangelize those rejected by society; he came “to call sinners” by showing them God’s love and mercy, and calling them to repentance.
Every Catholic knows that we are morally obligated to avoid the near occasions of sin. These can be such things as bad companions, drinking parties, indecent TV-books-movies, and so on. For example: why do you socialize with a person who openly and repeatedly sins against God’s commandments? Is it for the loving purpose of providing correction and education – spreading the Good News like Jesus did? Or do you simply succumb regularly to peer pressure, to a near occasion of sin?
Our Sunday worship can be very hollow, if we are not making an attempt to control and conquer these near occasions of sin. God reads our heart. It is love and mercy he desires, rather than empty sacrifice. The root of sin is in the heart of a person, in his free will.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Merciful conduct toward ‘sinners’ was Jesus’ hallmark (CCC#589); but he did not cooperate in their sinfulness. We have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them (CCC#1868). This happens by direct participation, and also by not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so (ibid.). Not avoiding occasions of sin leads us to become accomplices of the sins of others (CCC#1869).
Q479: What was wrong with Pharisees trying to remain detached and ritually pure?
Notice how the “cultural setting” influences our understanding of today’s text. First, the Pharisees would have been very rigid when it came to ritual purity and other rabbinical regulations. So the “ritually impure” would have been on the receiving end of their sarcasm and even hatred. Included in that “rejected” group would be the tax collectors, peasant farmers, Samaritans, and anyone else who could not adhere to their rigid human regulations either because of their state of life (even alcoholics and prostitutes), or their place of origin (Samaritans, pagans). The Pharisaic approach was strictly exclusive – do it “our way” or become an outsider.
In the Gospel today, (Matt 9:9-13) two key themes addressing this exclusivity are brought to the forefront by Jesus. These are unconditional Love and unconditional Mercy. The behavior of Jesus was against many “accepted” religious norms, meaning many regulations added by the Pharisees. Jesus became an “outsider” because he did Not ask the people he healed about their religious beliefs, Nor did it matter to him if they were “ritually clean.” His mercy was unconditional. All the potential recipient had to do was “ask.”
Jesus quoted a Greek proverb (“you won’t find a Physician around the healthy”), cited a Scriptural prophecy (Hosea 6 about God desiring Love), and identified his own vocation (“I came to call sinners”). Nothing could be more clear: God’s love is Universal, not Exclusive. The lesson for all of us is to imitate Jesus: be Unconditional in our own love and mercy. We cannot be a vehicle to bring others to Jesus if we exclude them from all contact or conversation with us. Our challenge is to carry on the Mission of Jesus – to “follow” Jesus (like Matthew did) and bring the presence of Jesus to the sick and the sinner.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus offended the Jewish teachers of the Law, because he “taught as one who had authority,” not like the Scribes; he even disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees (CCC #581). The “blind” teachers were scandalized when Jesus showed mercy to sinners (CCC #589).