Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why Does He Dine With Tax Collectors And Sinners?

Once again, while Jesus was walking along the lakeshore, a crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. Then, as he continued his walk, he saw a man named Levi sitting at the tax collectors booth, collecting taxes. Jesus said to Levi, “Come, follow me.” And Levi left his post, and followed Jesus.

Later in the day, Jesus accepted Levi’s invitation to dinner, and along with Jesus and his disciples, there were also several other tax collectors and sinners sharing the meal. When the Pharisees say that, they asked his disciples, “Why does he dine with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard the question, and answered them, “People who are healthy don’t need a doctor; sick people do. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

In Galilee and Judea, in Jesus’ time, tax-collectors were shunned by pious folk, because they were employed by the Romans, and the money they collected went to Rome. The “sinners” mentioned in this gospel were public sinners, women who in our vernacular would be called street walkers. It is no surprise that the Pharisees, the guardians of the Law of Moses would be scandalized that this preacher would be sharing food with “unclean” people.

Consider carefully Jesus’ response. Just as a person who is healthy doesn’t need healing, a person who is righteous doesn’t need forgiveness. The whole purpose of the Son of God leaving his place at the right hand of the Father, taking on human form and flesh was to atone for the sinfulness of men and women from the creation until the end of time. As today’s first reading from Hebrews reminds us, “We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, who, like us, has been tempted in every way, and yet is without sin. So, let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we might receive mercy, and obtain the help of grace in our time of need."

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