“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, followers of Jesus, still have much to learn from him. Today’s reading provides another wonderful example. Once Jesus begins his public ministry he is constantly on the go. Going to where? Meeting people where they were, in the midst of their daily lives as he did with Matthew in today’s Gospel reading. 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. A hope that there actually may be a path leading in from the peripheries. A hope that they no longer have to be on the outside looking in. A hope that they, for the first time in their lives might finally belong.
Jesus is shown time and again encountering the person as they are in their present circumstances and the chaos of their lives. He welcomes, is present, and embraces each person as they are. He invites people to be part of something greater than their self-absorbed posture, to actualize their potential and embrace a life of meaning and purpose. The only requirement is that they are willing to: be loved, be human, be free, and once experiencing this encounter, share what they have received with others.
Do we: deny or mask our own fears, stoke our own 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 receive his love, so as 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 that we too may love in return?
Are we are willing to risk being vulnerable and open our hearts to Jesus? If so, we will experience the love, fulfillment, and belonging we seek in the very depths of our souls. 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 judging and instead, accepting another as they are for who they are, by being present and willing to accompany our fellow brothers and sisters.
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 enter into the chaos of our lives. Are we willing to let him in, be loved by him, to be called like Matthew, so we can love others and enter into the midst of their chaos as well?
Painting: The Calling of St. Matthew, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1600