As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
In any community, a difficult tension lies between justice and mercy. When someone does harm, should he be punished or forgiven? Or both?
The Pharisees, rightly, are scandalized by the behavior of tax collectors like Matthew. These guys were extortionists, getting rich by charging people more than they actually owed. Jesus, no doubt, agrees; this behavior is wrong. But Jesus also knows that the tax collectors will never change unless he spends time with them. It is not enough to preach at them from street corners or protest outside their offices. The tax collectors, like most of us, will not listen to Jesus unless Jesus listens to them.
So Jesus spends time with them, not to condone their behavior as the Pharisees suggest, but to show the tax collectors that he cares. Only then will the tax collectors care what Jesus has to say — about their behavior or anything else.
Teach me to listen, O God,
to those nearest me,
my family, my friends, my co-workers.
Help me to be aware that
no matter what words I hear,
the message is,
“Accept the person I am. Listen to me.”
Teach me to listen, my caring God,
to those far from me–
the whisper of the hopeless,
the plea of the forgotten,
the cry of the anguished.
Teach me to listen, O God my Mother,
Help me to be less afraid
to trust the voice inside —
in the deepest part of me.
Teach me to listen, Holy Spirit,
for your voice —
in busyness and in boredom,
in certainty and doubt,
in noise and in silence.
Teach me, Lord, to listen.
—Adapted by John Veltri, SJ, as published in Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits