“While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples” (MT 9:10).
We as the Church, we as followers of Jesus, still have much to learn from Jesus. Today’s reading provides another wonderful example. Once Jesus begins his public ministry he is constantly on the go. Going where? Meeting people where they were, in the midst of their daily lives. And what is the response to Jesus calling Matthew, a tax collector, and then partaking in table fellowship with other tax collectors and sinners? The Pharisees question the disciples about his practice and curious onlookers follow at a distance. But to those who have, maybe for the first time in their lives, been respected as fellow human beings, feel hope. Hope that there actually may be a path from the peripheries. Hope that they no longer have to be on the outside looking in. Hope that they, for the first time in their lives might finally belong.
Jesus is shown time and again in the Gospels to be about encountering the person as they are in their present circumstance and chaos of their lives. He welcomes, is present, embraces the person as they are. He invites people to be part of something greater than their self, to actualize their potential and embrace a life of meaning and purpose. The only requirement is to be willing to be loved, to be willing to be human, to be willing to be free, and once experiencing this encounter, willing to share what they have received with others.
Do we: deny or mask our own fears, stoke our pride believing that we can take care of ourselves without the help of anyone else, seek false truths and the glittering lures of power, wealth, pleasure, and honor for our security and satisfaction, that in the end leave us empty, attached, and/or addicted? Or are we willing: to have the humility to recognize our sinfulness, our need for Jesus and willing to receive his love, so to let go of our bondage to false illusions of security, and realize that we are, at the deepest core of our being, a living, craving hunger and desire to be loved by God and others, so to love in return?
If we are willing to risk, to be vulnerable, to open our heart to Jesus we will experience the love, fulfillment, and belonging we seek in the very depths of our soul. This is the fulfillment that no other pursuit or person can bring. We do this best as Jesus did, by being willing to enter into the lives of others, by resisting judgment and accepting another as they are for who they are, being present and willing to accompany our fellow brothers and sisters. For as Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 12:7). Mercy, as I have quoted Fr. James Keenan, S.J. before, “is the willingness to enter into the chaos of another.” Jesus is willing to do so for us. Are we willing to be loved by him, to be called by Jesus like Matthew, so we can love others in the midst of their chaos?
Painting: The Calling of St. Matthew, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1600