08Mar 8th March. Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Saint John of God, religious.

Joao de Deus was a 16th-century Portuguese-born soldier from Evora, who after his conversion became a health-care worker in Spain. His followers later formed the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, dedicated to the care of the sick poor and the mentally ill.

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9-14

(If the people are converted, they are blessed, like a spring whose waters never fail.)

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.” If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Gospel: Luke 5:27-32

(The converted tax collector sits at table with Jesus, who welcomes sinners to him.)

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “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 to repentance.”

Lord of the Welcomes

In Jesus we follow one who loves and accepts each individual human being in his or her unique reality, just as life has formed us. His open acceptance of Levi as a conversation partner over dinner, and later as a trusted helper, is symptomatic of his approach to a wider circle of others. The converted tax collector is not made to feel a second-class citizen, simply for coming late into the Lord’s circle. How refreshing to hear this note of warm welcome echoed in the words of pope Francis, in his call for the doors of the church to be open wide so that all may enter. Certainly Jesus believes in conversion: but he calls people to it in such a non-judgmental way, and awaits their positive response. How fully he would endorse Isaiah’s conviction on this matter: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”

Isaiah offers a message that foreshadows the healing acceptance with which Jesus welcomes all who come to him. It is one of the prophet’s most stirring promises, in God’s own name: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”  The promise that our God will always be near us, to guide us both in our actions and in our patient acceptance of what we cannot presently change, is a deep source of personal serenity. And then Isaiah adds a series of powerful metaphors, to reinforce the message of a caring God.  He will make your bones strong; you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt. This is the kind of conviction on which a person of faith can build, and which gives full meaning to any good effort we may be making for Lent.



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