“I’ve Come To Call Sinners To Repentance”
February 16, 2013
Here is another set of two stories linked together, one ‘a vocation story’, the other a ‘teaching story’ about inclusiveness as a value in God’s kingdom.
As Jesus passes by the customs-house by the lakeside, he sees an accountant, Levi by name -- in some versions, the man is called Matthew – and calls him to discipleship. Immediately Levi leaves everything, and follows Jesus.
Like the other vocation stories, this one too is characterized by the generosity and the promptitude of the person called.
The second part of the story has to do with a meal at Levi’s place in which there’s ‘bad company’ – tax-gatherers and other unsavoury characters -- and Jesus is seen enjoying himself in their midst. Once again, the ‘good people’ – the Pharisees and the Jewish theologians – take umbrage. “How can a prophet be seen in such company ?!” they argue with Jesus’s disciples. “It’s a shame!”
Jesus’s reply is proverbial: “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I didn’t come to call the virtuous, but sinners.” I’m on a mission to heal and save. This includes everyone. Even those not considered worthy.
Most of us have been taught to shun the evil person and keep oneself safe from temptation. That may be a valid principle most of the time. But there’s also another principle which is as pertinent. Empowered by the spirit, one may be called to mix with those very ‘bad people’ in order to save them. Here one acts as a doctor amid the sick, and one’s presence brings healing not infection. In other words, it’s not moral exclusion which operates here, but saving mission.
Jesus’s answers always stand the conventional wisdom on its head.
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