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Sermon Sunday 11 June 2023

Matthew 9:9-13,18-26

Grafton Cathedral

Archdeacon Tiffany Sparks


According to Aristotle, Poverty is the parent of revolution and

crime. Now, this is confronting, and forces us to think non

dualistically. It is easy to cast people as either ‘all good’ or ‘all

bad’, but none of us are all one thing.


In today's Gospel we have the tax collector, who was seen as

corrupt, with suspicion that they would take more than their

share from those who have little. Tax collectors worked for the

Roman Regime and were seen as untrustworthy who were

seen to unjustly administer the tax system and keep the ‘cream’

for themselves. Then we are introduced to the haemorrhaging

woman and the Synagogue leader's daughter. Both of which

are pretty much no ones in society. They wouldn’t be ‘missed’

other than by their loved ones. They are collateral damage of

the system of the time. A woman who is perpetually bleeding is

outside of ever being ‘pure’ and a child had zero status in

society. Today’s readings are depicting Jesus with the

perceived ‘dregs of society’ or worse people with no status in

society at all. And he is walking among them, dining with them,

healing them and bringing life.


Now, we have to remember, the Gospel of Matthew is unique,

in that the 1st century Matthean Community were still law

observant. However, the sacrificial system and purity

observances were out of control and meant the people were

stuck in perpetual cycles of poverty, sickness and various other

forms of impurity. The sacrificial acts - as spelled out in

Leviticus and Deuteronomy usually involve the sacrifice of a

prescribed animal (usually a pigeon or unblemished goat or lamb)

to atone for particular sins. For Matthews community,

these acts of sacrifice and to achieve purity were of great

concern. And Jesus blows it up.

The exchange of a sacrifice as an act of contrition and

reconciliation became the default position of first century

pharisaical Judaism. This system was the way to ensure that

you were ‘right/correct with God’. So it makes no sense for

those watching Jesus - who were subscribers to the sacrificial

system - to see Jesus hanging out with the folk who were ‘not

right with God’. When questioned why he is hanging out with

the socially undesirables (because sharing table fellowship was

forbidden with people who were impure) Jesus responds with

‘Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’


The Gospel story then goes on to tell the story of the bleeding

woman Jesus healed and the 10 year old girl child Jesus

brought back to life. The woman who had been bleeding for 12

years and according to the Gospel of Luke spent all her money

on Physicians who didn’t heal her - and left her with nothing, so

that is 12 years where she would have been ostracised, and

would not even have the small mercy of sharing a meal with her

family. Forbidden. And the nameless girl child of the

Synagogue leader, who while doesn’t have a name, who is

forever remembered, because her story is shared here, and

restoring her life was seen as Good News.


Jesus is the Good News. Who came to bring good news to the

poor, to give liberty to the captives and to feed the hungry. To

reset the stage and to correct the perception that God is only

for some. God is for all. Poverty is the parent of revolution and

crime. Well……………..this kind of fits. Because Jesus’ life and

how he loved, revolutionised the world and to make the

metaphor work a little harder, Jesus was killed as a criminal

and for the next three hundred years, being a Christian was

illegal.


These actions of Jesus are not just miracles; they are symbols

of a profound spiritual shift. They present a challenge to a

society embedded in ritualistic sacrifices and purity laws. When

asked about his choice of company, Jesus, echoing the words

of the prophets Hosea and Micah, asserts, "I desire mercy, not

sacrifice." These words reverberate across time and space,

speaking to us even today, reminding us of God's deep desire

for justice, kindness, and steadfast love over ritualistic

sacrifices.


So, what does this mean for us, living in a world that seems to

be hurtling deeper into the abyss of disparity, intolerance, and

exclusion?


It means we have a calling, a divine mandate, to live out the

radical love that Jesus demonstrated in these narratives. A call

to see beyond the societal labels and engage with the humanity

that resides within everyone. To dine with the 'tax collectors' of

our time, to bring healing and hope to the marginalised, to

speak life into situations where there is none.


These stories of Jesus's ministry serve as a blueprint for our

own lives. As followers of Christ, we are called to mirror this

mercy, compassion, and radical inclusion in our interactions

with others, just like Suzanne DeWitt Hall reflects in her book

‘Where True Love is’, "Jesus, the creator of the universe, cares

about our smallest needs. He cares if we are wet and cold, if

we are hungry and discouraged, if we are frightened or lonely, if

we are marginalised and excluded."


In this broken world, we are not merely bystanders, we are

active participants. We have the responsibility to bring about

justice, mercy, and love in every aspect of our lives. As we face

challenges of poverty, injustice, inequality, let us remember the

words of Micah, 'And what does the Lord require of you but to

do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your

God?'


This calling to mercy over sacrifice, to love over legalism, and

to inclusivity over exclusion, is not an easy one. It challenges

our biases, our prejudices, and our comfort zones. But it is a

calling rooted in the ministry of Jesus, a calling that

acknowledges the inherent worth of everyone.


For in God's economy, there is no collateral damage, only

children, loved and cherished. In God's kingdom, mercy reigns

supreme, love is the law, and the table is big enough for all.


As we step out into the world, let us carry the spirit of mercy,

the spirit of Jesus in our hearts. Let our lives serve as a living

testimony to a world in desperate need of mercy, justice, and

love. Let us be the beacon of hope, a testament to God’s

unfailing love for all.


Amen.

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