We have been hearing from the Prophet Amos this week and our first reading today from the bible sounds very close to what we heard this past Monday. Amos lived during a time when there was a surge in prosperity around him. As a result, he saw that there was a great and growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. That is an interesting observation considering he lived in the 8th century B.C.
To try and put some perspective on that, I did some looking on what the income differences between the wealthy and the poor were in 1960 compared to today. Needless to say, there were so many charts that track different aspects of the whole thing, it became a little daunting to zero in on one that would tell the story of our times. But it was clear to me that the saying “the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer” is true. It seems that it was true for Amos back them.
It should be a little unsettling to us thinking about the disparity in wages and the impact that has on families just barely getting by from paycheck to paycheck in a society with so much wealth as we have. Anyway, this is not a homily on economics. You get the point.
What Amos was concerned with was dishonesty. Just like on Monday, the wealthy show a lack of respect for human beings. Greed seemed to be woven into the fabric of the daily lives of people. One group taking advantage of another and so on.
The call of Matthew we hear today in the Gospel follows the account of the healing of the paralytic at the beginning of Chapter 9. The same Jesus who forgave the sins of the paralytic also sought out sinners such as those who surrounded Matthew and his tax collector friends. He extended grace to all, group by group.
This call to Matthew did not require him to abandon his friends that were associated with the work of tax collection, even though they we tangled up in the very corrupt and unjust tax system of the day. Rather, Matthew apparently remained in conversation with former coworkers in order to make their daily work more just and generous. Here, in this aspect of the story, is a very important lesson for us. The call to discipleship is not a divine summons to flee the political or economic world, but to transform it. We should imagine Jesus with our friends and coworkers and similar conversations.
The other important message here is Jesus’ use of the word “mercy”. In context, this means kindness and concern for the well-being of neighbors. Look at how Jesus was thinking – care for the tax collectors as part of God’s people. Jesus, the great reformer of Israel, invites these tax collectors back into the Jewish community within which they were to show care and concern for their poorer fellow covenant members. He is, in essence, showing us the priority of community. Something for us to think about today.