A reading from the gospel according to Mark 2:13-17:
13 Jesus went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them.
14 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.
15 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.
16 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?”
17 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.”
Reflection: Eating with Sinners
(Note: The same story appears in the gospel of Matthew but the person called is Matthew Himself. Whether or not Levi is the same person as Matthew, is still subject to debate. What is very clear is that he was a tax collector.)
The call of Levi to be a disciple of Jesus is one proof that Jesus is calling everyone to follow Him regardless of occupation or background. Collecting tax during the time of Jesus was a despised profession and tax collectors were labeled as sinners. For Jesus to make him his disciple and later dined with him together with the other “sinners” was seen as scandalous. To see the magnitude of the horror, just imagine a well-known pastor of the church in today’s world eating and drinking publicly with prostitutes and drunkards. That would be big news of the day and members of the church would be quick to ask for the resignation of the pastor!
Yet Jesus was also quick to emphasize the very reason why He came down to earth: to call sinners to turn back to God. This is a lesson for all followers of Jesus especially the leaders or pastors. If the Church is to be an agent of evangelization, it must give priority to the care of those marginalized sectors who are stigmatized by sin and shame. The church should be a welcoming home for everyone and to be judgmental has no place in it. Everyone is a sinner anyway (Romans 3:23).
Let us always remember that people can change. If not, there is no hope for the world. Jesus knew that Levi and the other sinners can change. If not, His mission would be in vain. He showed us the way to hope for change. Eating and drinking with sinners is not bad if the conversation is focused on the Good News.
See previous refection on this topic here.