Thursday, July 12, 2018

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:15-17

Christ and tax collectors

The tax collectors, often Jewish people who collected the Roman taxes, even the Temple tax ordered by Herod, who made their living on keeping a percentage of the collections.  For the traditionalists in Judea and Galilee, they were seen as collaborators with Roman occupation;  for the working poor, they were seen as exploiters of their circumstance.  Levi was one, a man with a Hebrew name in the tradition of the priestly line.  And Christ sat down for dinner with this man of questionable character in the eyes of many, and He did so for His own reasons.

I think Christ may have joined in meal-fellowship with the tax collector to stir the very judgmental questions boiling in the self-righteous Pharisees.  The tradition was not dine with such unclean souls.  The Pharisees thought this unwise on the part of Jesus, maybe, even a betrayal of Hebrew cause.  The irony … is that it would be Pharisees who would collude with the Roman authorities in ridding them of their Jesus-Problem.

I also think that Christ may have joined in meal-fellowship with the tax collectors to model His strategy for dealing with the “enemy”.  Hate begets more hate, violence begets more violence, but reaching out with love slowly transforms the “enemy”.  As foolish as it may seem to those of us schooled in worldly ways to deal with “enemies”, this was the radical approach of Christ.

Add to these, I believe Christ joined in meal-fellowship with the tax collectors to make visibly God’s initiative of healing grace.  In this New Understanding, we come not to judge and condemn but to offer ourselves as healers of broken and infected people and cultures.  We are to be the Healing Presence that turns “tax collectors and sinners” into honest souls.

Yet, at the heart, I believe Christ had meal-fellowship with the tax collectors because he was trying to love the man.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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