June 18, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 5:27-32.
After this he went out and 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. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Interestingly, Richard Rohr in his contemplation for today writes, “[W]hat we unfortunately called ‘original sin’ — a poor choice of words because the word sin implies fault and culpability, and that is precisely not the point! Original sin was trying to warn us that the flaw at the heart of all reality is nothing we did personally, but that there is simply ‘a crack in everything’ and so we should not be surprised when it shows itself in us or in everything else. This has the power to keep us patient, humble, and less judgmental.”
All “righteous” Jews considered tax collectors to be sinners. Jesus rightly saw that everyone had a flaw, a crack. No one was perfectly formed except God’s own Son, Jesus. He came to care for those like me with flaws and he vented his wrath on those who failed to see their own flaws, the righteous. The righteous saw fault and culpability in all those around them while Jesus saw the child within each that God had created and with whom He longed to be with.
After years of subjection to rejection from synagogues, castigation, and revilement, Levi, presumed to be Matthew, must have immediately sensed God’s longing as well as His love for everyone who was flawed in this man Jesus. He accepted everyone with their sins whether they were culpable or not. Levi realized that he was accepted, forgiven, and loved; after all, Jesus invited him personally. So, he left everything and followed Jesus. What was the first thing he did? He celebrated; he wanted all his friends to share the good news that they were accepted as they were. Jesus wanted to enjoy their company and to share the pleasure of food and drink with them. The door was opened to all and Levi cleaned out the pantry in preparation for leaving everything behind, for a complete change in his life.
I can identify with Levi. I speculate that for Him God was a distant, unknowable deity who did little to lift up His “chosen” people. When I started writing these reflections on the gospel readings nearly two years ago, it was to answer a nagging question in my mind. Who was this man Jesus? I had no personal relationship with Jesus; I had no comprehension of what that meant really. He was divine, the Son of God, free of sin. I couldn’t relate to that in any kind of human way. My question was an intellectual one, though. I didn’t embark on a quest to develop a relationship, to “find a friend in Jesus.” In talking with a new friend, Katherine, this morning, it occurred to me that Jesus was speaking to me in that question. He was telling me, “I want you to know me. I don’t want to be a undecipherable deity; I want to have a relationship with you. To begin with, I was a man just like you and I’m going to tell you about myself through the gospels.”
So, in a real sense, I was like Levi. Jesus said to me, “Follow me,” and I did. I didn’t leave everything behind and I didn’t throw a party to get rid of all my stuff literally. However, I have slowly been leaving behind my attachment to things and growing more attached to him. In so doing, I have found an acceptance of my flaws and cracks — the healing that Jesus told the Pharisees about. Equally important, I’ve been able to grow more accepting and do less judging of others. All because Jesus has revealed his humanness to me. All because he beckoned, “Follow me.”