Matthew 9:9-13 Mercy, Not Sacrifice (or False Doctrine)

16 04 2013

 

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“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.’” Matthew 9:9-13 (NRSV)

Many people (me included, for about seven years,) are creeped out by the church and completely avoid Christian fellowship because of faulty theology or misinterpretation of Scripture.  Some people have been led to believe that some events in the past permanently exclude them from Christian fellowship.  Even being aware, as a Lutheran, that no one is saved by the Law- and that the Law is there to point out how impossible it is for us to follow God’s will, and to point us to knowing how we are entirely dependent upon Jesus, as the apostle Paul teaches in Romans 5:19-21 –

“For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (NRSV)

I still thought that as a person who had been divorced and remarried, that I had no place in the church, and no right to be there.  The “morality rules” were drilled into my head that deep.

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My background is extremely conservative.  Both traditions that I grew up around- old-school Catholicism and Regular Baptists- frown upon divorce, and frown upon remarriage after divorce even more.  It is true, God hates divorce:

For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. Malachi 2:16 (NRSV). 

God only permitted divorce in the Mosaic Law because of the hard-heartedness of His people, as Jesus teaches: He (Jesus) said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Matthew 19:8 (NRSV)  There were a number of issues involved in the end of my first marriage, and I can attest that my own hard-heartedness was most certainly a contributing factor.

God hates all sin, including the laundry list of sins that are cautioned against throughout Scripture- gossiping, lying, coveting, failing to love others, maliciousness, immorality, revenge and the list goes on.  The apostle James goes so far to say that if a person obeys the Law but messes up one tiny little part of it, that person is still guilty of violating the entire law. (James 2:10)  Even so, we humans tend to categorize sin, and in my upbringing, I was taught remarriage after a divorce was one of those “unpardonable” sins that stigmatized a person forever and excluded him/her from Christian fellowship.

open sinner

Most Christian churches have been more accepting of people who have the more “socially unacceptable” scrapes and blemishes in their past, which is a positive development.  After all, we are all sinners, and we have all fallen short of the glory of God. All people need to be convicted by the Law and to hear the beautiful saving Gospel.  All people need to feel as if they are welcomed and invited into the church.

The only issue with “eating with tax collectors and sinners” is that being accepting of people should not imply that sin is anything other than sin.  There is a slippery slope that the apostle Paul discussed, where Christian freedom was mistaken for lawlessness and anarchy.

“(Paul writes:)It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife.  And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?” 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (NRSV)

The difference here is between acknowledging that people are going to sin, and condoning sin.  Instead of looking the other way at our sins, Christians should examine our own hearts and ask the Holy Spirit for what we need to stand and to live a life worthy of how we are called.

Mercy

Every human being that draws breath is a sinner, and even those of us who believe, and have been baptized, and are saved by the grace of God, are saints and sinners at the same time.

“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”  Romans 14:4 (NRSV) 

So we are living the saint-as-sinner paradox on the more controversial issues, but it’s easy to forget that the garden variety saint-and-sinner who is very moral and prim and proper (think: Dana Carvey as the Church Lady) is just as much a law-breaker as the people that are excluded from some churches.

People will categorize one sin as being more heinous than another- and some sins are greater in magnitude as far as the damage they inflict upon the self and the greater community- but in God’s economy the kid who takes a pack of gum from the gas station is just as much a law-breaker as the spree killer.

I’m not suggesting that Christians should embrace sinful behavior, or fail to address those things that fall short of the glory of God, but that it’s good to remember, that God’s the judge and I’m not.

“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.   For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’  Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:8-13 (NRSV)

 

 

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