10th Sunday 2005
“I am so tired of this job. I don’t know that I can face another day. Or all those people who stand in judgment of me. They think themselves so pure, so religious, so righteous. Why would anyone want to spend their life doing what I do? I am a collaborator with the power structure. I am rejected by my own people. Each and every day is conflict and criticism. I feel so trapped.
Who is this who is coming near me? It’s the rabbi, the man they call Jesus. What could he possibly have to say to me? He probably will hold me in judgment the way everyone is who says they are “of god’”? What? He is smiling at me. What did he say? Follow him? Follow him where, how, why? Is this what I have been waiting for? Is this whom I have been waiting for? What is happening to me?
I created this inner dialogue for Matthew, the tax-collector, the customs official, the toll taker as I tried to imagine why he would simply get up and follow Jesus. Was he in fact ready for a change in his life? Was the power of the person of Jesus so irresistible that he could not refuse? Everything about his life was judged, scorned, rejected by the religious authorities. He was a publican, another kind of public sinner. He was impure because of his collaboration with the Romans. Everything about this person’s life spoke of exclusion and rejection.
But not from Jesus. Jesus not only calls him to companionship but calls him to “com pane” break bread. He says to him to get all his friends who the religious righteous say are excluded from the table and welcome them at the table. Jesus stands at the center of the table of mercy.
This image of Jesus who “who “eats and drinks with sinners” did not seem to catch on as much as Jesus who sacrifices himself on the cross for our sins. There is a difference you know. There is an isolated image of Christ on the cross, dying to save us. And this other image of Jesus at table, dying to be with us. In our Eucahrist, both realities are present. Eucharist as memorial sacrifice, recalling his death on the Cross but also Eucharist as a breaking of bread and sharing of a cup with sinners, we who by are natures are flawed, broken, needy, “sinful” people.
As I prayed about this scene in the Gospel today, I wondered how is that we as a Church have gotten so far from this memory? We are a Church that is so concerned about ritual purity, about making sure that all of our liturgical ingredients are according to the law, when Jesus himself was about breaking the rules of legal purity. We are a church who sets so many restrictions on who is worthy of coming to the table and eating and drinking, where jesus himself was with those who did not “fit”, those who were not acceptable.
However we got to this point, it is in fact where we are. And that is why it is so important to hear the Gospel of “mercy” which invites all of us sinners to be in companionship with Jesus.
The inner dialogue I began with is one that some may relate to when you are simply worn down by some part or even all of your life. Judgment, criticism, confrontation, conflict, whether in work, in ministry, in personal relationships can take its toll. But then, that man they call Jesus comes along and smiles at us, offers us the invitation to “follow him”. And that can make all the difference.