As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."
It is a precious skill to ask good questions. Such questions are not only the safest bet to start an interesting conversation; a good question is the backbone for both meaningful writing and interpretation. Acute queries can unmask, respectful inquiries can build bridges, pointed interrogation can unfold truth. Ask and you shall receive.
Now, Jesus is frequently asked questions. And actually, often the questions are really good. Today, for example, the question is frank, concise, and truly significant. I like to imagine the moment between a question and Jesus’ answer. When I picture how he remains silent just a bit longer than usual, it is not only for building up suspense. Rather, before pronouncing His words, Jesus regards the multilayered meaning of the dialogue, a meaning which His immediate interlocutors couldn't imagine but which includes our reality in the question at hand. Thus, every question asked in the Gospels is a question for us or by us or about us too. Figuratively speaking, before eying the Pharisees in front of Him, Jesus gazes through the times at me, and then answers with words that transcend time and space, words of eternal life.
Why does Jesu eat with sinners then? Why does He dwell among us? When Jesus speaks about attending the sick instead of the healthy, I don't think He was dividing humanity into sinners and righteous people. Jesus came to all mankind precisely because all men are sick. We all need the physician. Thus, the question by the pharisees mirrors the question by those prideful angels who took offense by the Incarnation: why do you eat with sinners, that is, why do you become a weak creature and dwell among them?
What the pharisees didn't realize is that they were poor sinners too, and that, when eating with them, Jesus lowered Himself as much as among the tax collectors. This pride is the pride of demons. Consequently, their question was better than they realized, as, in His answer, Jesus lovingly abazed Himself to them too. The pharisees' sin was not to admit their sinfulness. That sin, that pride, that sickness required the most invested medical attention of all. But this sin also hardens the heart. How do you heal a heart of stone? How do you help someone who does not want to be helped?
Jesus knew how much His interlocutors needed Him. And He knew that eating at their table would not be enough in order to heal them. You see, Matthew, the tax collector, had embraced conversion simply by experiencing Jesus' love and mercy. The more hardened hearts of the pharisees would not melt that easily. This is what Jesus must have considered in the brief silence before His answer, looking into the self-righteous faces of these proud men. It must have been one of these moments in which He pondered the consequence of His quest to heal all men. It would take far more abazement than eating among sinners. It would take His very life. This kind of love is the only medicine to renew a heart of stone.
Jesus, why did you choose to dwell among us? Yes, this is a good question. But the question ultimately revelas a lack of understanding of love. It cannot be solved with a piece of information. It must be responded from an experience of love. A loving God is a God who is close to His children. A God of mercy. If you don't understand why God lowers Himself to you; if you cannot fathom that He is not discouraged by your failures; if you don't trust Him enough to allow Him to see you weak: then you have not yet learned to be truly loved; then you will not find a satiyfying answer to the question at hand. This is what Jesus saw in the faces of the pharisees. "Go and learn the meaning of the words: I desire mercy, not sacrifice," He thus told them. Go and learn to love others. Go and learn to be loved. Then you will be able to answer the question why Jesus ate with sinners and dwelled among us.