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Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Jesus 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.”
Opening Prayer: Lord, here I am. I come to do your will. I want to follow you more closely today than I did yesterday. Bless me and lead me on this day’s journey.
- Follow Me: Do you wonder why Levi, who became Matthew and one of the Twelve Apostles, left everything, got up, and followed Jesus? What would compel a rich businessman to leave the security and privilege of his profession to follow someone who many thought was just an itinerant preacher? The answer, our faith professes, is both God’s grace and our free will. Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us (CCC 2003). God’s free initiative demands man’s free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him (CCC 2002). The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace (CCC 2001). We can confer from this that Levi/Matthew was prepared by God to accept his invitation, but that it required his assent to leave where he was and follow Jesus. This assent was not for Levi/Matthew, nor is it for us, a one-time event. We are not “once saved, always saved.” Life’s ups and downs require continuous assent to God’s grace to remain and grow in faith: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13).
- Sinners and Pharisees: The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” A Pharisee, as presented in the Gospels, was a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written Jewish law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity. Because they were under the protection of the law, Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees: “…on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Matthew 23:28). Because tax collectors and sinners were found outside the protection of Jewish law by their own actions, state, or circumstances of life, Jesus called, instead of rebuking: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Jesus, however, never dismissed the law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). This fulfillment of the law to whom everyone, including the Pharisee, the tax collector, and the sinner is called, is Jesus, the Son of God, who is Love. A Christian, who is a follower of Jesus Christ, is called to love as Jesus loves. He or she does so by obeying God’s commandments and the teachings of the Church he gave us, and by inviting and welcoming others to do so as well.
- Spiritual Sickness: It is probably a good bet that the complaining Pharisees saw themselves as righteous. Many became Jesus’ persecutors, persuading others to condemn and crucify him, believing they were acting in God’s will. We do not want to see ourselves as either a Pharisee or a sinner, but through our fallen nature due to original sin, the Church teaches it is impossible on our own to be spiritually healthy. This condition is called concupiscence and is defined as an inclination to sin. We cannot on our own be sinless, so Jesus came to rescue us as Savior, to ransom us as the Lamb of God, to restore us as the Divine Physician, and to redeem us through adoption: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God” (John 1:12-13). Through the sacraments of the Church, Jesus is calling, healing, and walking with us towards eternal salvation with him. Hope becomes fulfillment through our daily assent to his call, “Follow me.”
Conversing with Christ: Lord, I sometimes judge the actions of others, condemning them. I fall into temptation through my weaknesses. I cannot follow you on my own and that is why you came. Thank you, Jesus! Even when I sin and judge, you are with me, ready to forgive and heal me. I want to do your will. Thank you, Jesus, for granting all the grace I need to follow you into your Kingdom.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I resolve to appreciate the sacrament of Reconciliation for what it is: your healing invitation to be closer to you, and to receive it more often during this Lent.
Nan Balfour is a grateful Catholic who seeks to make Jesus more loved through her vocation to womanhood, marriage, and motherhood, and as a writer, speaker, and events coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization ministry located in San Antonio, Texas.