Sinner with a Capital "S."
Reflecting on the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Three Days after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 115
Old Testament: Isaiah 8:1-15
Gospel: Luke 5:27-32
O God, you spoke your word and revealed your good news in Jesus, the Christ. Fill all creation with that word again, so that by proclaiming your joyful promises to all nations and singing of your glorious hope to all peoples, we may become one living body, your incarnate presence on the earth. Amen.
“He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” This comment by a governor about a presidential candidate many years ago, helps us think about our Gospel reading today.
Jesus calls Levi, also named Matthew, as one of his disciples. Levi is a tax collector. Tax collectors are hated by the people. When the Romans wanted to collect taxes from their subjects, they found willing citizens of that particular land to do their dirty work. Jews were not just subjects of Roman, they were subjugated. They hated it; and to make matters worse, they were forced to pay taxes to their oppressors. Any Jew willing to collect taxes for the oppressor was considered a traitor. It might be difficult for us to understand why anyone would betray their people in this way, but being a tax collector could be quite the lucrative endeavor.
This is why Levi could afford to give such a lavish party for Jesus. It was scandalous enough for Jesus to call Levi to follow him, but to be willing to enter his house and celebrate with this sinner would have been considered shameful. To accept hospitality from this Roman collaborator elicited a clear response from the religious leaders.
Jesus’ response to their question of why he would accept hospitality from this sinner should be obvious to many. The sick are in need of a doctor, not the healthy. Jesus has come to those who need his healing work of salvation.
The problem for the religious leaders was that they were born on third base and thought they hit a triple. Their position meant they had lived privileged lives and perhaps were born into that privilege. There was nothing wrong with that, but somehow they had come to believe their privilege had been their achievement. Their righteousness was an achievement They surely did not reject the idea that they were sinners, but they had done what we so often do—we unconsciously rank sins in order of egregiousness. The Pharisees were sinners, but they were sinners with a lowercase “s.” The tax collector was a Sinner with a capital “S.” They didn’t mind associating with sinners, but not Sinners.
But Jesus came for all who need to be healed from sin. The truth of the matter is all of us are Sinners with a capital “S.” It doesn’t matter what sins we have committed or failed to commit. We are all sinners of equal rank in the sight of God; and Jesus has come to call us to his new way of life.
We may be sinners with a capital “S,” but the good news is that Jesus has offered Salvation with a capital “S.” Like Levi, we are invited to receive that Salvation.
That is cause for celebration.
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