Dining with Sinners


Mark 2: 13-17
1Sm 9:1-4,17-19;10:1/ Ps 21:2-7

Jesus said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’
(Mark 2:17)

We sometimes give a false excuse
When the occasion doesn’t suit us;
Take heed, this call you can’t refuse,
The invitation is from Jesus.

Once again Jesus went out along the sea. A great crowd came to Him, and He began to teach them. As He walked along, He saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax collector’s post. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed Him. While He was at table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. When the scribes who were also Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)

Reflection

Levi had probably reached the limit of his tolerance, and wanted out from this hated position as a lackey of Rome, and the object of the Jews’ derision. Even though he was making a lot of money, he was sick of being an outcast of his own people, and longed to be in the company of real friends, and be a follower of a real leader, like Jesus of Nazareth. But how could he even think of being invited into such an exalted company? The chasm between him and this Man of God was like earth and the sky. And then a miracle happened. The Messiah came up to his post one day and invited him, saying simply, “Follow me.” Levi got up, left everything, and pursued a new life.

A known sinner like Levi would never have had the courage to enlist himself as one of the disciples of Jesus. Nor would any of the Lord’s company dare to sponsor him. In the eyes of the Jewish world at that time of the Roman occupation, the publicans, (or tax collectors of King Herod and the Roman conquerors) were worse than lepers, being in cahoots with gentiles and their tainted money. Like the paralytic, they would never be able to rise up again from their unforgiveable sins, because, like the demoniac, they were possessed by an insatiable greed for money.

But Levi changed his ways, and his transformation did not come from his own initiative. It was Jesus Who chose him. When we are chosen to join a ministry such as the Eucharistic lay servers or the parish lectors and commentators, we tend to resist at first – perhaps because of our misplaced feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy. But as our former parish priest told my friend Romy, when he invited him to become a lay minister, “Why don’t you let the Lord be the judge of that, and allow Him to change your heart?” It was the same case with Ben, who had kept putting off the persistent invitation of Johnny to a Catholic fellowship breakfast, only to realize later on that his former life in politics had been a meaningless pursuit of self-glorification, and developing a full relationship with the Lord in the renewal had finally filled the void in his life. He had been shunning God’s invitation for a long time, but through a friend, God’s transforming grace finally caught up with him.

Christ came to earth to invite sinners, and not the righteous. His mercy pardons the greatest sins; His grace transforms the greatest sinners, like Levi the tax collector.

Thank You, Lord Jesus for inviting us to become Your followers, and for making us worthy to be members of Your Church and this community we now serve. Amen.

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