Saturday after Ash Wednesday – Gospel


Commentary on Luke 5:27-32

Jesus certainly made strange choices in his prospective followers. Today when we look for “vocations” we tend to search among committed and well-balanced Christians. Today we see Jesus picking someone who was regarded as an immoral money-grabber, a religious outcast.

Tax collectors were despised on two counts: first, they were seen as venal collaborators with the hated colonial ruler, the Romans, for whom they were working; second, they were corrupt and extorted far more money than was their due.

But Jesus knows his man. At the sound of the invitation, Levi drops everything, his whole business and the security it brings him. It is very similar to the fishermen leaving their boats and their nets. He then goes off after Jesus. Where? For what? He has no idea. Like Peter and Andrew, James and John before him, in a great act of trust and faith, he throws in his lot with Jesus whatever it is going to mean, wherever it is going to bring him. In Luke’s gospel particularly, the following of Jesus involves total commitment.

Then, as his last fling so to speak, he throws a party in his house for all his friends, who of course were social rejects like himself. The religious-minded scribes and Pharisees were shocked at Jesus’ behaviour. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” they complained to the disciples.

Jesus answers for them. Only the sick need a doctor, not the healthy; Jesus has not come to call the virtuous, but sinners, to repentance. Jesus’ words can be read in two ways. On the one hand, there is no need to preach to the converted. Which is what we do a lot of in our Christian churches. What is needed is to reach out to those who are lost, whose lives are going in the wrong direction, who are leading a self-destructive existence.

And surely that is what the Church needs to be about today. There is a lot of the Pharisee among us still. We are still shocked if we see a priest or a “good” Catholic in “bad” company and often jump to hasty and unjustified conclusions. “A priest/sister should not be seen in such company.” As a result the Church is in many cases very much confined to the church-going fringes of society.

Jesus’ words can also be taken in a sarcastic sense. His critics regarded themselves as among the well and virtuous. In fact, they totally lacked the love and compassion of God reflected in Jesus. Their “virtue” did not need Jesus because they were closed to him anyway. We remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. It was the one who acknowledged himself as a sinner and wanted God’s mercy who won God’s favour.

We too need to be careful of sitting in judgment on others, taking the high moral ground and claiming to be shocked at certain people’s behaviour. All of us, without exception, are in need of healing.

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