Saturday, February 28, 2009

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at his counting table. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi got up, left everything there, and followed Jesus. Later in the day, Levi gave a banquet for Jesus at his house, and there were many tax collectors and other guests at the table with him. The Pharisees and scribes were complaining to Jesus’ disciples, saying: “Why does your teacher eat and drink with tax collectors and scofflaws? “ Jesus heard them, and answered: “People who are healthy have no need of a physician; sick people do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The Greek word we translate as “repentance” in this gospel is metanoia. This word means “change”. It can refer to changing direction, choosing another path, turning around and heading in the opposite direction.

The First Reading, from the prophet Isaiah, tells us what that “other direction” is. His instruction reminds me of the list of works of mercy: Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Visit the sick. But, the Prophet’s first instruction is not “Give bread”, but “Give YOUR bread.”

The mission of Jesus, as he told the Pharisees and scribes, was to call sinners to repentance, to express sorrow for their sins, and to change their lives. We are all sinners, some great, some small, some – perhaps most – in between. We all need the forgiveness of Christ, and the grace of conversion. We cannot afford to be judgmental about our neighbors – “There, but for the grace of God, go I”, St Philip Neri used to say. Perhaps, during this Lenten season, I can give back to God a little of what He has given me, and perhaps God’s powerful grace can transform me – if only I let Him.

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