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On the Feast Day of St Matthew [Sept 21], we must acknowledge a great mercy in Jesus’ call. As a tax collector, Matthew was considered a great sinner. In fact, the term “tax collector” was a biblical euphemism for great sinner. Yet despite this, Jesus called him to be an Apostle.
In our times, many set mercy and the fact that we are sinners in opposition to each other, but the Lord Jesus unites these realities together. For the Lord, mercy is necessary because there is sin, not because sin is “no big deal.” It is because sin is a big deal that mercy is needed and is glorious.
Bishop Robert Barron aptly states, many receive the message of divine mercy as tantamount to a denial of the reality of sin, as though sin no longer matters. But just the contrary is the case. To speak of mercy is to be intensely aware of sin and its peculiar form of destructiveness.
Mercy does not deny sin; it acknowledges it and supplies an often-challenging remedy. Jesus shows mercy by calling us from our sin and healing us from its effects. An antiphon in the Breviary says, God sees all men as sinners, that he might show them his mercy.
Jesus calls Matthew away from his tax post, saying, “Follow me.” In other words, stop what you are doing; come away from it and follow me out of here. To the woman caught in adultery, He says, “Do not sin again.” Jesus began His ministry by saying, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” To repent (metanoiete) means to change, to come to a new and different mind.
Thus in His mercy, Jesus does not confirm us in our sin; He summons us away from it. He calls us to change and equips us to do so. His merciful call is this: “Come away from here. Enough of this; follow me.”
Jesus uses the image of a doctor and states plainly that sick people (sinners) need a doctor. Jesus is that doctor. A doctor does not look at a sick patient and say, “You’re fine the way you are” or “I affirm you.” That would be malpractice. Jesus sees sin for what it is. He calls it such and prescribes the necessary medicines. He will also likely speak to a person’s lifestyle and recommend needed changes. This is how a doctor heals.
Thus, in His mercy, Jesus heals our sins. He does not ignore them or approve of them—and He certainly does not call them good or something to celebrate. In His mercy, He heals them. He ends them.
So mercy is not a bland kindness. It is not mere flattery that pretends that sin does not exist or that it doesn’t matter. Beware of fake, flattering mercy. True mercy says, “Sin is awful. Let’s get out of here and go to a far better place.”
Matthew got up and followed Jesus. How about us? – Msgr Charles Pope