15Jan Saturday 15th January

Hebrews 4:12ff. God’s word is a two-edged sword, penetrating soul and spirit; our compassionate high priest sympathises with our weakness.
Mark 2:13ff. Jesus calls a tax collector to join him as a disciple, and then proceeds to dine with Matthew/Levi and his friends. Both by word and action he calls sinners, not the self-righteous.

Qualities of Leadership

Each one of us, through God’s special gifts in our lives, is called to leadership, of one kind or another. We are asked to inspire other members of our family, neighbourhood, work-force, community or parish with enthusiasm for goodness, forgiveness, truth and patience – in precisely those virtues where we are gifted by God. Today, God instructs us through the vocation of Matthew and gives food for further theological reflection through Hebrews. We can observe the types of people whom God calls, the norms for effective leadership, and the helps for living up to these ideals.

We see how Jesus calls the least likely person, Matthew. As a tax collector under the hire of the Roman occupation force, Matthew was not permitted to enter a synagogue nor to go up to the temple. He was excommunicated for all contact, even at table, with law-abiding Jews. It is not so much that God can choose any riff-raff for religious leadership, but rather that he whose word penetrates the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, “judges the thoughts of the heart”, recognizes value and potential in people whom others too quickly discard. There may be many whose growth we have stunted by our failure to second their ideas, or perceive their hopes, or show trust in their hidden ability. Other people may have seen in Matthew the tax-man only a non-observant, half-pagan Jew, hobnobbing with the foreign oppressors, but Jesus recognized someone with a compassionate heart, optimistic and hopeful towards others – in fact, the very dispositions which God attributes to himself as he led the Israelites out of Egypt and prepared for the covenant on Mount Sinai.

As Moses stood on the heights of Mount Sinai and held in his hands the two stone tablets of the law, God passed by and a voice was heard: The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, Exod 34:6. Yet the following phrase was added to the description of God, that “he does not declare the guilty guiltless” – words that remind us that Jesus did not canonize Matthew on the spot. Realistically, Jesus was aware of Matthew’s faults, and in explaining his choice to the grumbling Pharisees, he said, “I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous.” Jesus was quite conscious that the apostles needed a period of training and growth.

When thinking of the norms for leadership, the most basic is a desire for sharing our gifts with others. Leaders ought to recognize and second the good but hidden qualities in others, if they are to enable them to gain strength where they are weak, wisdom where they are mistaken and confidence where they feel inadequate. Jesus not only calls Matthew but also accepts an invitation to dine in Matthew’s home with all his friends and fellow tax collectors. The training period is already underway, friendship is being deepened, points of contact being established. Not only does God penetrate the depths of our psyche, but Jesus himself shared the depths of our existence, even our temptations. The Scriptures combine a pure insight into ideals and a compassionate understanding of human nature, two essential qualities for religious leadership.

First Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Gospel: Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples – for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”