Friday, February 12, 2016

A SINNER'S CALL


Homily for February 13th, 2016: Luke 5:27-32.

          “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus’ critics ask indignantly. They put the question to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus himself answers it. ‘People who are healthy do not need a doctor,’ he says in effect. ‘The sick do. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’

          To understand why the religious authorities are so indignant, we have to know that sharing a meal with someone was considered, in Jesus’ day, treating him as a brother. How could one give such treatment to tax collectors? They were the hated ripoff artists of the day, working for the Roman government of occupation to squeeze as much money as possible out of their fellow Jews, while retaining part of their receipts for themselves.

          Jesus speaks just two words to Levi: “Follow me.” Without hesitation, Levi gets up and follows Jesus. Other disciples of Jesus have already done the same, when, at Jesus’ command, they abandoned the tools of their trade as fishermen, their boats and nets, to follow Jesus. What motivated this immediate obedience? I think that if we could have questioned any of them, Levi or Matthew included, they would have replied: “There was something about this man, Jesus, which made it impossible to say no.” 

          As a parting gesture Levi invites his friends to dinner at his house, with Jesus as the honored guest. As we would expect, many of those friends were Levi’s fellow tax collectors. Others were simply “sinners,” as the gospel reading calls them: Jews, like Levi, who did not keep God’s law.

Observing these disreputable guests, the Pharisees, proud of their exact observance of God’s law, ask Jesus’ other disciples how their Master can associate with such social outcasts. Jesus overhears the question and again answers himself: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous [by which Jesus means ‘people like you Pharisees’]. ‘I came to call sinners.’

What is the message for us? If we want Jesus’ loving care, we need first to recognize and confess our need. And the first thing every one of us needs from Jesus is forgiveness.