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Advent Devotion 12.3.19

“Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Matthew 9: 13
These words of Jesus conclude the passage describing the call of Matthew to be a disciple of Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. He got that job through a bidding process with the Roman government. Once the price for the job was set, Matthew paid the full amount to Rome. After that Matthew, like all tax collectors, collected the taxes to cover the price of the job. But the taxes collected were entirely within Matthew’s discretion. He would then overcharge and keep the excess collected. His “job” was a license to steal. To steal from his own people. Can you think how many of the Ten Commandments Matthew violated? But Jesus called him to be a disciple! And Matthew got up and followed. They then went to dinner at Matthew’s house to celebrate. Who else was there? Many tax collectors and sinners. And the Pharisees were appalled. To discredit Jesus, they wanted to know how Jesus could eat with such cultural vermin. The whole thing was unclean. It is here that Jesus speaks the words we read today.
12But when he heard this, [Jesus] said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Jesus words are good news. He eats with tax collectors and sinners, and calls them to be his disciples, because they need him. They need to be healed of their moral sickness and inability to see the ways of God. This is the mercy that God desires of us. That we welcome all people into our community of faith, our community of disciples. Jesus sees the people who need a savior and simply asks them to follow him. So, should we. There are no prerequisites. There are no demands of repentance or belief in a series of religious tenets (like the sacrificial system in vogue at the time). Only to follow. That is what Jesus does for us as well. He asks us to follow. And then we have a choice. We can admit that we are not righteous and need a “physician” or we like the Pharisees, can rely on our own perceived righteousness, claim we have no need for Jesus and exclude all who are not righteous n our eyes. Jesus tells us to be merciful.
What does this have to do with Advent? We await the one who comes to give mercy and who requires no more than that we follow him into God’s Kingdom. That journey starts with the incarnation. The baby in Bethlehem. Come and follow him.

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