Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Lent 1
Luke 5,27-32

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely apostle than Levi, also called Matthew. Tax collectors like him, agents of a feared and hated government, were despised by ordinary Jews because they belonged to a profession considered greedy, unfair and unclean. They were unwelcome in the synagogues and temple. No good Jew wanted  anything to do with them.

Yet Jesus called Matthew and ate with him and his friends. Jewish leaders in Capernaum were outraged: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus’ answer is the answer of a merciful God. “The healthy don’t need a physician, but the sick do.”

There are no incurables whom God won’t cure. Tax collectors are God’s children and belong to God’s family as anyone else does. The call of Matthew is a lenten reminder that God doesn’t reach out to a favored few; he reaches out to the whole wounded world. So should we.

When St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, preached missions in the 18th cenury in the towns of the Tuscan Maremma, he set up a platform in the village square to speak to all who came by. The crucifix he held high in his hands was a sign of God’s mercy offered to all and denied to none. Bandits were common in Tuscan Maremma, and Paul brought many of these “unofficial Tax-collectors” back into society. Jesus wanted them to be saved.

“I rejoiced that our great God should wish to make use of so great a sinner…I tell my beloved Jesus that all creatures shall sing his mercies.” (Diary)

Lord,
who are the tax collectors I wont eat with
and the sick I won’t heal?
Let me see them
and welcome them as you did.

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