Eve of the Feast of St. Panteleimon, July 26, 2013
By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
Antiochian Archdiocese Convention, Houston, Texas
Listen to this homily on Ancient Faith Radio
In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read the account of the Lord Jesus calling the tax collector Matthew, the author of this Gospel, to follow Him and to be one of His disciples. We then read of how Jesus and His disciples are sitting with many tax collectors and and sinners and eating together with them. The Pharisees, who were known for their precision in following their particular interpretation of the Law of Moses, objected to this scene and accusingly asked Jesus' disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matt. 9:9-11)
We look back at this incident from twenty centuries of hindsight and of course know that the Pharisees are the "bad guys," while Jesus is the "good guy." But in the first century, the Pharisees were most certainly not the bad guys, at least not as far as the general society of Judaism was concerned. The Pharisees were well-respected leaders in the community, and they made sure that Jews followed their traditions as they had been written—all 613 commandments that they counted in the Law of Moses. Eating with public sinners, especially traitors to the Jewish people and collaborators with the Roman conquerers like tax collectors, was not something good Jews were supposed to be doing. So when the Pharisees ask this question, it's a good question.
Jesus hears the Pharisees questioning, and He responds to them Himself, saying, "Those who are well have no need of 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 to repentance" (Matt. 9:12-13).