Fr Paul reads from the Gospel of Luke (5: 27-32) in which Jesus, when challenged about associating with tax collectors and sinners, says “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the virtuous, but sinners to repentance”.At the very beginning of Lent, says Fr Paul, we are being challenged with a couple of huge contrasts. Jesus, in today’s Gospel, calls a degraded tax-collector to be one of his close associates but if that is not bad enough, he has a party with more dirty tax-collectors and other sinners, whose company he seems to enjoy. Fr Paul says it is striking to see how willingly they left their lucrative but degrading employment – here is the person called ‘Levi’ (in another version of the story it is ‘Matthew’) and at Jericho the story is told of Zacchaeus. Keep in mind that tax-collectors were despised and shunned on religious grounds; they worked for the unclean Romans; and this contrasts with the Pharisees who lived their lives strictly in careful, detailed observance of God’s Law. The dilemma here is that either Jesus has lost all claim to be God’s representative, or the Pharisees have got their priorities all wrong. In the Gospel Jesus replies with those two forceful contrasts which are so characteristic of his speech: not healthy but sick, not virtuous but sinners. In other words, it is not the details of the Law which matter, but the purpose of the Law: to bring men and women to God. Jesus positively welcomes sinners, so at the beginning of Lent there is no point in denying that we, too, are sinners. We would fit nicely into the dirty, degraded company of the Jesus in this Gospel so let’s see if we can stay in his company just for a little bit of time today. Fr Paul notes today’s Gospel Lesson – Jesus always welcomes the sick and the sinners.
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