June 11: The Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for June 11, 2023 was preached in response to Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 based on the manuscript below.

In our two excerpts from Matthew today,
Jesus is expanding his circle –
the circle of God’s love and inclusion –
and breaking norms and customs
by doing so.
Just before this passage
Jesus has healed a man
and told him
that his sins are forgiven.
The problems his opponents have with him
are growing.
Jesus has healed a man,
had the audacity to say his sins were forgiven
and now he’s eating dinner
with the wrong kind of people.
He’s got friends in low places
as one commentator puts it.

Matthew, this person he’s called to follow him
is one of those wrong kinds of people.
As a tax collector or customs official
he’s expected to be a cheat
and is certainly to some extent
collaborating with the oppressive empire
As much as he deals with gentile money
and gentiles in general
he’s seen to be ritually unclean.
Still Jesus calls him as a disciple
and then breaks bread with Matthew and people like him.
When Jesus’ opponents see this,
they ask.
“Why does your teacher eat
with tax collectors and sinners?”

In the next part of what we hear
Jesus again violates ritual purity laws
and two different kinds of people approach Jesus.
First is a leader,
whom Mark and Luke record
as a leader in the synagogue.
This respected man comes to Jesus
because his daughter has died.
Even already dead,
this man believes
that Jesus can make a difference.
Second is a woman with a bleeding disorder.
She’s lived with this condition for twelve years
and would have been excluded from most worship life
because she’s seen as unclean.
She comes up behind Jesus,
and touches the fringe of his mantle.

There’s no asking,
“Who touched me?”
in Matthew.
Jesus turns to her
and tells her that her faith
has made her well.
Then he goes with the leader
shoos everyone out of the house
takes her hand
and raises her from the dead.
As Anna Case-Winters puts it,
“In the space of these few verses,
Jesus [is] touched by a hemorrhaging woman
and [touches] a dead body.
He does not protect himself,
but extends himself for those
in need of healing.
It is not because ritual purity is unimportant
but because ritual purity is secondary
to the demands of mercy and compassion.”

Jesus is putting into action
what he’s just warned his opponents about.
He’s just 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.”
He’s spending time with sinners
tax collectors and others
who are ostracized by Good Religious People.
Jesus is healing people
who are ritually impure
because they need the healing.

That’s how Jesus comes to us today.
The point of these passages
is not go to out and find people we deem sinners
so that we can be a part
of their redemption.
Rather, in giving us this model and example
Jesus is showing us
how expansive God’s love is
and how God longs to draw all of creation
into relationship with God.
In his book The Bible Tells Me So
Peter Enns says,
“Many Christians have been taught
that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven,
God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual—
follow the directions and out pops a true believer;
deviate from the script
and God will come crashing down on you
with full force.”
What that winds up doing
is making us ask ourselves
how passages from the Bible
are about us.
What are we supposed to do
because the Bible tells us so.

The passages today –
from Hosea to Romans to Matthew –
short circuit that.
Both testaments tell us
that the greatest commandment
is to love God and love our neighbors.
The passages we hear today
aren’t about us
and how we’re supposed to act.
The passages today are about God:
God’s deep love for humanity,
God’s desire for us to be in right relationship,
and God’s willingness to short-circuit certain rules
because the healthy
don’t need a physician.

Next week we’ll hear about the disciples first mission
and the narrowed focus they have.
Before we hear that, though
we hear and read about Jesus expanding
who can be included
and who will be a part of his community.
We hear all of that
in the context of magi who come from far off
to worship the new king
and Jesus directing the disciples
to go into all the world
teaching people to live as he’s taught
and baptizing them into the work of the church.

These passages are about God
inviting us into ever deeper relationship
with God.
If these stories are about us in any way
they’re about us as tax collectors,
us as sinners,
us as people with a condition
that keeps us separate from our community
us as dead girls
needing the healing hand of Jesus
to raise us to new life.

That’s what Jesus came to do.
He came to be among us as fully God and human
to heal us
and raise us from the dead.
Not because we’ve deserved it
or because we’ve earned it in any way.
No, God came to be with us in Jesus
because of God’s great love for us
love so powerful that it defeated death
and has command
over death and life.
“‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
For I have come to call
not the righteous but sinners.”
From the font to the table
Jesus calls us to return to him
however close or far
we’ve strayed.
In showing love to us,
God bids us to love our neighbors
and dwell in God’s presence. Amen.

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