09Mar Saturday after Ash Wednesday

When we call, the Lord will answer; in our time of need he will say, ‘Here I am.’

1st Reading: Isaiah 58:9-14

They are blessed with waters that never fail

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.

Responsorial: Psalm 86

Response: O Lord teach me your way, that I may walk in your truth

Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am faithful:
save the servant who trusts in you. (R./)

You are my God, have mercy on me, Lord,
for I cry to you all the day long.
Give joy to your servant, O Lord,
for to you I lift up my soul. (R./)

O Lord, you are good and forgiving,
full of love to all who call.
Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my voice. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 5:27-32

The tax collector sits at table with Jesus, who welcomes sinners to him

Jesus 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

Jesus seems to accept each individual in her or his unique personhood, just as life has formed us. His willingness to talk with Levi, then join him at dinner, and later welcome him as travelling companion, is typical of this “Man For Others.” The one-time tax collector is not treated as a second-class citizen, simply for coming late into the missionary circle. How refreshing to hear this spirit of welcome echoed in the words of pope Francis, who wants the doors of the church to be open wide so that all may enter. Certainly Jesus calls for conversion: but he calls people to it in such a respectful way, and awaits their positive response. Isaiah puts it beautifully: When we call, the Lord will answer; in our time of need he will say, ‘Here I am.’

Isaiah’s message foreshadows the spirit in which Jesus welcomes people. It is one of the prophet’s most stirring promises, in God’s own name: “When you call, the Lord will answer” The promise is that God will always be near, to guide our actions and helping us accept what we cannot presently change. Then Isaiah adds a series of powerful metaphors, to reinforce trust in 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 faith that can energise any good effort we may be making for Lent.

Mercy towards all

As youngsters we were warned against bad company: “Show me your compan and I’ll show you what you are!” So the scribes and Pharisees were shocked by the company Jesus kept. Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners? Clearly, by eating with tax collectors and sinners he risked being contaminated by them. In that conservative view, one should steer clear of such people in order to stay morally pure.

Jesus chose another way. Rather than being infected by the sins of others, he knew that by mixing with them, God’s goodness could and would would transform them. The Lord is not diminished by our failings — but we are ennobled by his holiness. That is why he stays close to us, even when we might be tempted to stay away from him, because of what we have done or failed to do. The Lord is always ready to share his table with us, to relate to us, so that in our weakness we can draw from his strength and come to share his goodness and love.


Saint Frances of Rome

Francesca Bussa (1384 – March 9, 1440) is an Italian saint who was a wife, mother, mystic, and organizer of charitable services. She founded a religious community of oblates, who share a common life without religious vows. Her husband, Lorenzo Ponziani, was commander of the papal troops of Rome. During his many absences, Frances visited the poor and took care of the sick, inspiring other wealthy women of the city to do the same.

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