PREFERRING EMPTY SACRIFICE TO MERCY
No sin or weakness silences Jesus' word of grace.
Among the Jews, tax collectors were a despised group. They were Jews themselves, but they acted on behalf of the occupying Roman government. As such they were considered traitors. They received no pay from the Romans. They made their living by overcharging their fellow countrymen; what was over and above the required tax they were allowed to keep for themselves. For that they were considered thieves. As traitors and thieves, they were treated with hatred and contempt, but not by Jesus.
In a way one cannot blame the Pharisees for objecting to Jesus eating with tax collectors. After all, Amos the prophet did condemn those Israelites who had cheated at business deals and taken advantage of the poor. What the Pharisees failed to understand was that Amos meant his words of condemnation as an admonition, which would lead to repentance. He was like a doctor who warns a patient that his way of living is so injurious to his health that if it continues it will prove fatal.
Jesus stated his identical concern clearly: "People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do" (Mt 9:12). Jesus associated with known sinners to offer them the medicine of repentance. But then He turned the tables on the Pharisees by saying, "Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice'" (Mt 9:13). This too was a message from Amos. The Israelites of his day were exact, if not devout, in observing the prescriptions of the law about worship, but they were unmerciful in their dealings with others, especially in business matters. The Pharisees considered themselves observers of the law, but their hearts were not filled with mercy and compassion toward their fellow people.
We all at one time or another in our lives long for healing and hunger to be fed. St. Paul says in Romans: "Yet in faith we believe that no unworthiness closes the door to Jesus' welcome." No sin or weakness silences Jesus' word of grace. When Jesus welcomes us to His table, we come not because we have managed to get our lives in order and have set things right. We come in total trust that Jesus Christ, through His life, death, and resurrection has come and set things right.
Jesus has called us all to repentance. Jesus has bathed us with the medicinal waters of baptism and strengthened us with nourishment of the Eucharist. What He wants in return is a true love for others. The love we have received is to be shared.