14Jan 14 January, 2017. Saturday of Week 1

1st Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16

Our merciful high priest has passed into heaven

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

The vocation of Levi/ Matthew. Jesus calls sinners, not the self-righteous

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.”


Religious leadership

In selecting a tax-collector to follow him, Jesus makes a very unlikely choice. As a tax collector working with the Roman occupation force, Levi was an outcast among his fellow-Jews. He was not allowed enter a synagogue or worship in the Jerusalem temple. He was barred from social contact with faithful, law-abiding Jews. How then could he serve in spreading the Gospel of Christ?

It is not that God chooses riff-raff for religious leadership, but that He who judges the thoughts of the heart recognizes potential in people whom others too quickly discard. There may be many whose growth the church has stunted by failing to show trust in their ability. Other people may have seen in Levi/Matthew only the servile tax-man, the non-observant, half-pagan Jew, willing to serve the foreign oppressors… but Jesus recognized in him a man of compassionate heart, hopeful towards others, willing to put his gifts at their disposal.

When we pray for effective leaders in the church, the most basic quality to pray for is a desire for sharing faith and love. Good leaders recognize and encourage the good qualities in others. Jesus not only calls Matthew/Levi but also agrees to dine in his home with all his friends and fellow tax collectors. In this way a mutual relationship is established. As pope Francis memorably said, a pastor is in touch with ordinary people “a shepherd with the smell of the sheep on him.” Like our High Priest Jesus, who shared the very depths of our human experience, the genuine pastor understands the range of emotions and experiences of people today. He combines high ideals with a compassionate view of human nature, the two pillars of religious leadership.

The company Jesus kept

Some religious scholars, the scribes, express surprise at the company Jesus kept. They ask his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Someone like Jesus, a religious teacher, was expected to keep better company than that; he should be in the company of religious people like himself. Jesus clearly did not restrict his company to those who were seen to have measured up in some way. He was happy to keep the company of those who were considered sinners, just as doctors are willing to meet the sick, at least during their working hours.

The gospel reminds us that the Lord is happy to be with us, even when we have fallen short of what some people expect of us, even when we are far from being all that God is calling us to be. Our failings and weaknesses do not drive the Lord away or drag him down, rather his presence to us in our failings and weaknesses lifts us up. We always come before the Lord in our brokenness and he never drives us away. His table is always set for us and there is always a place for us there, regardless of where we are at in life. [MH]

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