He says it clearly: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (v. 12). Jesus presents himself as a good doctor! He announces the kingdom of God, and the signs of its arrival are clear: He heals illness and frees from fear, death and the devil. Before Jesus, no sinner is excluded — no sinner is excluded! — because God’s healing power knows no illness that cannot be cured; and this should give us confidence, and open our hearts to the Lord to come and heal us. In calling sinners to his table, He heals them by reestablishing them in the vocation they believed was lost, and which the Pharisees had forgotten: that of being invited to God’s feast. According to the prophecy of Isaiah: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. … It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (25:6, 9).
If the Pharisees see in the invited guests only sinners, and refuse to sit with them, Jesus on the contrary reminds them that they too are God’s table companions. In this way, sitting at table with Jesus means being transformed and saved by him.
In the Christian community the table of Jesus is twofold: There is the table of the Word, and there is the table of the Eucharist (cf. Dei Verbum, 21). These are the medicines with which the Divine Physician heals us and feeds us. With the first — the Word — he reveals himself and invites us to a dialogue between friends. Jesus was not afraid to talk to sinners, publicans, prostitutes. … No, he was not afraid; he loved everyone! His Word penetrates us, and like a scalpel, operates deep within us to free us from the evil that takes root in our lives. Sometimes this Word is painful because it cuts into hypocrisy, unmasks false excuses and exposes the hidden truth. But at the same time it enlightens and purifies, gives strength and hope, is a valuable refreshment on our journey of faith. The Eucharist, in turn, nourishes us with the very life of Jesus and, as a powerful remedy, in a mysterious way continually renews the grace of our baptism. In approaching the Eucharist, we nourish ourselves with the body and blood of Jesus, and yet, in coming into us, it is Jesus who unites us with his body.
Concluding the dialogue with the Pharisees, Jesus reminds them of a word of the prophet Hosea (6:6): “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9,13). Addressing himself to the people of Israel, the prophet rebukes them because the prayers they offered were empty and incoherent words. Despite God’s covenant and mercy, the people often lived with a religiosity that was “for show”, without living deeply the Lord’s command. That is why the prophet insists: “I desire mercy”; that is, the loyalty of a heart that recognizes its sins, repents and returns to being faithful to God’s covenant. “And not sacrifice”: without a penitent heart, every religious act is ineffective.
Jesus also applies this prophetic saying to human relationships: The Pharisees were very religious in form but were unwilling to share table with publicans and sinners. They did not recognize the possibility of repentance and, thus, of healing. They did not put mercy first: While being faithful custodians of the law, they showed they did not know the heart of God. It is as if you were given a package with a gift inside, and you, instead of seeking the gift, just look at the paper in which it is wrapped: only appearances, form, and not the core of grace, of the gift that is given!
Dear brothers and sisters, we are all invited to the Lord’s table. Let us make the invitation our own and sit next to him together with his disciples. Let us learn to look with mercy and to see in each of them our table companion. We are all disciples who need to experience and live the comforting word of Jesus. We all need to be nourished by the mercy of God, because it is from this source that our salvation comes. Thank you!
Translation by Diane Montagnaof Aleteia’s English edition.