Homily for March 4th, 2017: 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 himself. ‘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.
Is all that long ago and far away? Not at all. There is a similar controversy going on in the Church right now. It has to do with marriage. According to age-old Catholic teaching, marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman terminable only by the death of one spouse. The Church has the prophetic duty to proclaim this unchanging truth.
The Church has, however, a pastoral duty as well: to reach out in love and concern to people whose marriages fail; in particular to those who, after civil divorce, wish to marry again while continuing to practice their Catholic faith. Many are able to do so after receiving from a Church court, called a tribunal, a ruling, called an annulment, that there was some defect in the previous marriage which prevented it from becoming full marriage in the Catholic sense. But what about the large number of divorced Catholics in good faith who are unable to obtain an annulment – either because the evidence they present is insufficient; or because they live in a country where Church tribunals do not even exist? Can we find some way, without compromising our teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, to readmit them to the sacraments? Or must they live the rest of their lives in an extra-sacramental wasteland? Pope Francis himself has put this question on the Church’s agenda. Two synods have discussed the question in
. In April
2016 Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the subject, called Laetitis amoris, or The joy of love. Rome
Already we are hearing cries alarm about an alleged “threat to the faith.” That is nonsense. Pope Francis is challenging us to find a of way, without undermining Church teaching, to extend the love and compassion we see in Jesus to people excluded up to now, by a rigid application of Church law. Today’s gospel shows that Jesus loves such people. How can we do the same?