Gospel Reflection for Saturday – 1st Week in Ordinary Time (14 January) – Jesus calls the tax collector
Fr Paul reads from the Gospel of Mark (2: 13-17) in which Jesus calls Levi, the tax collector, to follow him, which draws the ire of the Pharisees.
Fr Paul says the Gospel today starts with a piece of local lore and a puzzle. The piece of local lore is that Capernaum is the first village reached after crossing the Jordan and entering the territory of Galilee from the territory of Iturea. That territory was ruled by Herod Antipas and his brother Philip and it was a good road along the lakeside. It was a busy trade-route, and, presumably, there was a border-tax to be paid.
The puzzle: was the tax-collector Levi (as in this Gospel and in Luke) or Matthew (as in Matthew’s Gospel 9:9)? Perhaps the one man had two names like we have experienced with Simon/Peter and Saul/Paul.
The chief point, however, is the outrage of the Pharisees at Jesus’ action. Not only had he picked out a tax-collector as one of his special companions, but he actually seemed to enjoy their company.
In the Roman Empire at the time, the right to collect taxes was let out to large companies, who naturally wanted to make a profit through what they collected. The tax-collectors were additionally unpopular because they worked for the Romans. To the lawyers (‘scribes’) of the Pharisees, whose chief business was deciding what was ritually clean and what was unclean, this was completely unacceptable. To them, it was incomprehensible that a religious teacher would plunge into the cesspit of tax-collectors for dinner. But to Jesus these were precisely the people he was seeking out.
Mindful of this, today’s Gospel Lesson – Pope Francis has said that we must smell like the sheep…in other words even if it is unpopular and goes against society’s norms – how can we help others around us.