Are you tired of politics yet? Of course, getting all wrapped up in things political can cause us to do or say some rather foolish things. For example, a few weeks ago a news show aired several comments made by a certain foreign leader. He's not very likable, and neither were his comments. In a weak moment - and I've had more than a few of these lately - I muttered something like, "Why does God let people like that live on and on?" Of course, as Diane would be happy to reveal, I've said far worse things than that.
Indeed, my question was really quite foolish; because in asking it I cast aside the very core of Jesus' teaching on God's love for us. It's a teaching that was foreshadowed when God spoke through His prophet Ezekiel and uttered those words of today's Gospel Acclamation verse. Do you remember the verse?
"I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live" [Ez 33:11].Yes, indeed, "...that he may live" - that he may have eternal life...That's right, God wishes all to be saved, every last one of us...as Clint Eastwood would say, "the good, the bad, and the ugly." And so, just by wishing or hoping for the death of another, even the most evil among us, we speak in opposition to God's will. It's another reason the Church pleads for an end to capital punishment: praying and hoping for conversion, rather than death.
Of course Ezekiel merely pointed to the Gospel, to Jesus, to the word of the Word Incarnate. And in today's Gospel passage from Luke we heard Jesus' response to the self-righteous, unforgiving Pharisees and scribes. It's the same response He would give to my foolish question:
"I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners" [Lk 5:32].
|Jesus at the Table of Levi|
Who was there, sharing in that meal? Oh, no doubt some of the disciples were there; but who else? You can be sure it wasn't the elite of local society, for they despised the tax collectors and their extortionist ways. No, the Pharisees got it right: only other sinners would be drawn to the table of one like Levi.
And aren't we glad of that? You do realize how perfectly wonderful that is?
This meal, you see, is just one more Gospel foreshadowing of the Eucharistic feast. The host is Levi - Matthew, the Apostle who bears the name of the priestly tribe - the public sinner whom Jesus will not only lead to conversion, but will raise up to be a bishop of His Church. Jesus comes to the table of Levi, the future bishop, and invites sinners to join Him as he breaks bread and sips the wine.
Jesus' presence always makes things happen: Levi's home becomes a church, his table an altar, he and his friends a congregation of repentant sinners gathered in thanksgiving for God's forgiveness. How perfectly wonderful!
And this is exactly what we have right here today in this church, at this altar, where Jesus calls sinners, that's you and me, to repentance and offers Himself in this Eucharistic feast, the feast of thanksgiving, a perfect sacrifice of love. But today the bread we break is His Body. The wine we sip is His Blood.
But do we then take the next step? Do we follow the command of the dismissal to "Glorify the Lord with your life?" In our first reading Isaiah gives us a few hints on how exactly to do this.
Do we "bestow our bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted?" [Is 58:10]
Do we "remove from our midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech?" [Is 58:9]
Do we "delight in the Lord's Day and make it honorable?" [Is 58:13]
Are there others in our lives who need our forgiveness? Do we need to forgive so our hearts can be open to God's love?
And the reward? God "will renew your strength, and you shall be...like a spring whose water never fails... Then you shall delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth." [Is 58:11-12]
The first step is to recognize our sinfulness, the need for repentance, something the Pharisees just couldn't do. But Jesus continues to call, doesn't He? He doesn't seek the death of the sinner, but conversion and eternal life - just as He later called a Pharisee named Saul.
God calls. We need only respond in repentance and obedience and then let Him convert our hearts. That's His work, the work of the Holy Spirit. Let Him do it.
Don't spend your time worrying about the "small stuff" -- the politics and concerns of this world. Focus instead on that which is truly important, the conversion of hearts, your heart and the hearts of those around you.
This Lent, open your heart to repentance, to God's call, to His power, to the movement of His Holy Spirit, and let Him do His work within you.