This homily was delivered on 11-16-07 at the patronal feast of St. Matthew the Apostle Mission in Baton Rouge, LA

I Cor. 4:9-16
Matthew 9:9-13

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! Today we obviously have the joy of celebrating the patronal feast of this Holy Church dedicated to the memory of St. Matthew the Evangelist and Apostle. And quite fittingly, our Gospel reading today is the calling of Matthew to follow Christ. When the Pharisees see Jesus eating in house of a tax-collector, much less having called one of these ‘sinners’ to be His disciple and apostle, they are scandalized. And they express to the other disciples of Christ their astonishment at finding their Teacher consorting with sinners such as tax-collectors. And I’d like us to hear very clearly the words of Christ in response to this indignation on the part of the Pharisees—“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13) His words have a great power for the Christian Church today, and a message that we desperately need to hear as we undertake the task of sharing the Gospel to those around us. And so we’ll do what our Lord commanded, we’ll look to see what these words mean—‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ These words sound familiar because we hear a very similar phrase prayed often in the services of the Orthodox Church, from Psalm 50. “For thou delightest not in sacrifices, else I would give it, thou delightest not in burnt offerings, the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, and broken and contrite heart O God thou wilt not despise.” This verse from the Psalter refers to what God would have us offer to Him—He prefers our hearts be given to Him, and not a burnt offering, not a material offering, but the offering of our souls. Christ is quoting the Old Testament when He says, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ but in that quote it’s God Who is speaking, unlike in the Psalm. Here, God is telling us how He prefers to behave toward us. And Christ’s quote is taken from the Old Testament Prophet Hosea. Hosea’s whole life is an image of the relationship between God and His chosen people. And this context is important because Christ says, “go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” Hosea’s entire life is an image of the mercy, and not the judgments of God. Hosea’s wife is a prostitute, and he has to chase her down time and time again; but God tells him to get his wife and to forgive her. He could have had her stoned, but God’s command was mercy. And Christ’s quote is from the 6th chapter of Hosea, where God makes the point several times that the people have strayed, and He has called them back. The people have broken the commandments and done horrible things, but still God’s plan is to restore His people. This is the “Old Testament God” that so many modern scholars speak of as a tyrant. God the Father not exacting revenge, but desiring to show us mercy. Because, as the Prophet Hosea says, God “delights in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in [our having] the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Christ is re-enforcing to the Pharisees that God doesn’t want our money, or our position, or our incense, or our sacrifice…God wants our hearts. God wants us to seek after Him; to seek and desire with all our hearts a relationship with Him.

We are planted here as Orthodox Christians in the Southern regions of the United States of America to continue to issue the call of Christ to St. Matthew. “Follow Him! Follow Christ!” To call those who are weary and heavy laden to give them rest. To call the sinners and offer them salvation in Christ. And as our Church reminds us very clearly in every service and in every prayer that we offer, we are the first among sinners. So we, as sinners who have entered into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, call those around us to this same Lord. And just as Matthew was not judged by our Lord, we issue the invitation to all—Come and see. And as the Spirit moves, and human beings meet Him with their will, then people will come to the Church of God to be healed of their sins and passions, and made whole and complete in Christ. We are all sick, our whole society, we are all sick and in need of a physician. And what our world desperately needs to hear the Orthodox Christian Church preaching is this very verse—‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And those sinners being called to communion with their Creator are all mankind. Glory to our God to extends to us all this invitation to enter into a healing relationship with Him, a relationship that not only spans the years of our lives, but extends into all eternity. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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