Christ Came to Call Sinners
January 14th Readings Reflection: Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus went out along the sea.
All the crowd came to him and he taught them.
As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus,
sitting at the customs post.
Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed Jesus.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples;
for there were many who followed him.
Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
The last line in today’s Gospel reading struck me the most: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” The scribes and Pharisees had been deriding Jesus’ disciples, because He ate with “sinners and tax collectors.” Jesus replied with the above quote, saying that only those who are sick need a doctor.
This exchange reminds me of the scene in St. John’s Gospel, when the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. Jesus told them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:6b DRB). In other words, let those of you who are righteous condemn this woman, for if you admit to being a sinner, you have no right to condemn her yourself.
Not a single one of us is sinless, but in our human pride, we often like to call ourselves righteous. I once heard a beautiful homily on this topic, in which the priest pointed out that we often fall into the trap of finding the sins in our neighbour instead of recognizing our own sinfulness. We focus our minds on all the terrible things other people are doing, causing us to think that since we don’t commit such and such sin, we must be righteous.
While we may not commit certain sins, each one of us has our own weaknesses, habitual sins, and temptations to which we all too often succumb. It is not our place to silently judge and compare ourselves to others. When we do this, we become like the Pharisees and ultimately shut out Jesus’ grace. He calls each one of us, but we cannot accept His call unless we recognize ourselves as sinners. Only then can we, like St. Matthew, get up and follow Christ.
When we do so, we will not find One Who “is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” as St. Paul wrote in our Epistle today, but rather “[O]ne [W]ho has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Jesus experienced all our trials and tribulations, including temptations. This should give us consolation and strength, knowing that our God has gone before us in this and gives us the grace to remain faithful to Him. May we accept the grace to humbly acknowledge our own sinfulness and recognize our total reliance upon God, always trusting in His divine Providence.
O God, be merciful to us, sinners!