MERCY NOT SACRIFICE – Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, Year A; Body and Blood of Christ, Year A (RC)

June 11, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 12:1-9 or Hosea 5:15-6:6
Psalm 33:1-12 or Psalm 50:7-15
Romans 4:13-25
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20 (12)
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

“One is known by the company one keeps.” That familiar expression dates back more than 2,500 years to one of Aesop’s Fables. It names our tendency to prefer the company of those who are like us, and at the same time it reminds us that we can easily become like those with whom we associate. The moral of the fable is that if we know a person’s “crowd,” we have an important insight into that person as well.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees may have had this saying in mind when they asked the disciples of Jesus, “”Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mt 9:11) Just two verses earlier, he had walked by the booth of the tax collector Matthew and invited him to follow, in just the same way that he had summoned Peter, Andrew, James, and John to leave their fishing boats to come after him (see Mt 4:18-22). Now he is sitting at table with a group of tax collectors and sinners. What kind of a rabbi could he really be if he chose such unsavory characters as followers and dinner companions?

The religious leaders were undoubtedly confounded by Jesus’s response that his mission was precisely this—to welcome and spend time with these wounded and excluded people and to offer them God’s healing and mercy. He chides the Pharisees for their emphasis on external religiosity over works of compassion: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Mt 9:13). Jesus makes known a God who cares little for the blood of animals, but is deeply concerned for the lowly, the poor, the outcast, and the sinner.

In his words to the Pharisees, Jesus is quoting from the prophet Hosea, who hundreds of years earlier had spoken on God’s behalf to a people that dutifully carried out religious rituals but whose day-to-day decisions and actions deviated from true fidelity to God’s ways. Speaking through the prophet, the Holy One declares, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6).

The biblical prophets frequently upbraided God’s people for relying on religious rituals while showing little concern for those in need. Perhaps the most searing prophetic criticism is found in the writings of the prophet Amos, in which God speaks derisively of ritual celebrations:

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

Jesus and his disciples participated in Jewish ritual life, attending synagogue services, making pilgrimages to the Temple, and celebrating the great feasts. Yet Jesus often criticized outward displays of religion, teaching that the reign of God was to be found among the poor, the sorrowing, the peacemakers, the hungry, the outcasts, the sinners, and those who thirst for justice.

For Christians who are diligent in religious observance, especially for those of us who lead communities in worship, today’s Scripture readings proclaim an important truth. God has no need of our worship. Authentic worship is never about placating God but rather is a gift that God provides to crack open our hearts to live and serve as God’s people. Genuine religious practice is always accompanied by identification with those living on the margins—with trans youth, those who are losing their Medicaid benefits, unhoused persons living on the streets, and migrants waiting at the border. We will be known by the company we keep, just as Jesus was.

A Hymn for Today: “Within the Reign of God”

Roman Catholic communities in North America observe this Sunday as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, a feast for reflecting on the rich mystery of the Eucharistic banquet. An important point of intersection with the scriptures appointed in the RCL for today is the image of Jesus sharing table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners and thereby embodying the reign of God. So too when Christians gather at the Lord’s table to break bread and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they enact a sign of God’s reign in which God welcomes those whom the world shuns.

In this hymn, Hymn Society member Marty Haugen has created a text and tune that express well the connection between the Eucharistic feast and the reign of God that Jesus lived and proclaimed. Listen here.

Come now, the feast is spread;
in Jesus’ name we break the bread.
Here shall we all be fed
within the reign of God.
Come take this holy food;
receive the body and the blood.
Grace is a mighty flood
within the reign of God. Refrain

Blessed are they who will share the bread of life.
Blessed are they who are least in the reign of God;
they shall rejoice at the feast of life.

Stand up and do not fear,
for Christ is truly present here.
Heaven is truly near
within the reign of God.
Now at the wedding feast,
the greatest here shall be the least.
All bonds shall be released
within the reign of God. Refrain

Welcome the weak and poor,
the sinner finds an open door,
none judged, and none ignored
within the reign of God.
Here shall the weary rest,
the stranger be a welcome guest.
So shall we all be blest
within the reign of God. Refrain

All fear and hatred ends
and foes become our faithful friends,
just as our God intends
within the reign of God.
All you who seek God’s face
are welcome in this holy place;
join in the feast of grace
within the reign of God. Refrain

Sing out the jubilee
when those enslaved are all set free,
children of God are we
within the reign of God.
No more can we forget
the ones who bear life’s crushing debt;
God’s justice guides us yet
within the reign of God. Refrain

One earth, one holy band,
one fam’ly as our God has planned,
all share the promised land
within the reign of God.
Come now, the feast is spread,
in Jesus’ name we break the bread;
here shall we all be fed
within the reign of God. Refrain

Text: Marty Haugen, b. 1950 © 1999, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Tune: Marty Haugen

Image Credit: Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors, Alexandre Bida

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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