19Jan 19th January, 2013. (Saturday of Week 1 in Ordinary Time)

Hbr 4:12ff. Our compassionate high priest can sympathise with our weakness.

 Mark 2:13-17. The vocation of Levi/ Matthew. Jesus calls sinners, not the self-righteous.

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.”

Sharing religious leadership

Each of us, through God’s 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 Levi/Matthew and gives food for further reflection in Hebrews. We can observe the types of people God calls, methods of effective leadership, and the helps for living up to these ideals.

In selecting a tax-collector, Jesus calls the least likely person to follow him. As a tax collector under the hire of the Roman occupation force, Levi was not permitted to enter a synagogue nor to go up to the temple. He was excommunicated from social contact with faithful, law-abiding Jews. It is not that God chooses riff-raff for religious leadership, but that He whose word penetrates the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, “judges the thoughts of the heart”, recognizes potential in people whom others too quickly discard. There may be many whose growth we have stunted by failing to second their ideas or show trust in their ability. Other people may have seen in Levi/Matthew only the tax-man the non-observant, half-pagan Jew, serving the foreign oppressors, but Jesus recognized someone with a compassionate heart, hopeful towards others – in fact, the very dispositions attributed to God himself as He led the Israelites out of Egypt and prepared for the covenant on Mount Sinai.

When thinking about norms for leadership in the church, the most basic is a desire for sharing faith and love. Leaders ought to recognize and second the good qualities in others. Jesus not only calls Matthew but also accepts Matthew’s invitation to dine in his home with all his friends and fellow tax collectors. The training period is underway, friendship is being deepened, relationship being established. As God penetrates the depths of our psyche, our High Priest Jesus shared the very 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.