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Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I'm finding an interesting phenomenon in social media and the papers these days. There are more and more people quite willing to say that we live in dark times, that the world is going to hell, that "stuff like this wouldn't have happened in my day."

But strangely enough, there are almost no people willing to say that they themselves contribute to these dark times or to the hellishness of our society.

It's a tough thing to take ownership, for sure - especially when you don't see yourself as personally involved in, say, the opiate crisis, or the fact that some people can't find jobs. 

But I also find myself more and more convinced that the dark times in which we live would not be quite so dark if I were willing to own up to, and change, my angry reactions to other people, or my moments of being way way too busy.  Even my basic, small, everyday actions have an effect on other people.

Today's gospel (Matthew 9:9-13) mentions Jesus calling a tax collector to be one of his disciples. Tax collectors were quintessential sinners of that time - people who not only took the taxes that were part of their job, but who demanded more money, and were known for taking advantage of the poor. I can imagine them saying: "I'm not a sinner - I'm just doing my job and besides I need the money for my family."

So sure, the tax collector sins. And one piece of the good news of today's gospel is that Jesus calls him anyway. 

But there's more to the story. The Pharisee in today's story is all too willing to see that tax collector's sin - but not his own contributions to the world's ills. In fact, he's all too willing to see himself as pure, as above all those bad people who do stuff I'd never do.

So maybe the pharisee isn't bilking people out of money. But he does seem to be arrogant, inhospitable, and unmerciful. Surely those, too, are sins against humanity.  At first, we might think that Jesus admits the pharisee is not a sinner, for he says that he does not come for the righteous but for the sinners. 

Yet in fact, Jesus tells the pharisee to go and learn the meaning of the words "I desire mercy not sacrifice."The thing is - he even comes for the sinners who believe they are righteous and do not yet know they, too, do things that are hurtful. Jesus is for all of us.

If we do not see and acknowledge the ways we ourselves hurt others, how can we show mercy to others?  The older I get, the more aware I am of my own need for mercy and the fact that I do actually sin, do actually contribute to the dark times on this planet in my own fallible ways.

Today, let us embrace God's mercy with recognition of the small and large ways that we contribute to the problems of our society.

Jana M. Bennett