Think about how good we feel after coming to be on the other side of healing from a bad cold or the flu, recovering from a twisted ankle, a broken collar bone, or other health conditions. We experience a feeling of wholeness that was missing during the midst of our suffering where we may have pondered a time or two whether or not we would ever get better.
The same can be said for estranged relationships. There is a distance of separation that can be agonizing, an inner gut-wrenching experience that gnaws away at us. We wonder if there can ever be a coming back together. When there is reconciliation, forgiveness, and amending of the brokenness of relationships, we can experience such a relief, lightness and joy, that we never imagined possible while in the midst of the gut wrenching angst, conflict and separation.
Sin separates us from one another, and unchecked sin can build and multiply like cancerous cells. The Pharisees and the scribes questioned why Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners, and Jesus replied: “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:32).
Jesus is truly a light in the darkness. For Levi and his friends, who just settled for the path they were on, thinking and feeling, this is the best it was going to get, were given a choice, an invitation, a new way. A great celebration of fellowship ensued in Levi’s home because these men and women, who had been outcasts, who were separated from the greater community were forgiven, welcomed, and embraced. They were loved by Jesus as they were. They did not have to change first for Jesus to call Levi and gather with them.
They were welcomed into the kingdom and reign of God. Their ticket to reconciliation and healing was accepting the invitation of Jesus, to receive and experience his love and welcome. Levi and the other sinners did not run from the light of Jesus, but were willing to recognize their need for healing, were willing to repent, to turn away from their prior ways of life and so were reborn!
They were divinized because of their willingness to participate in the life of Jesus. Levi would continue to follow Jesus such that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him (cf. Galatians 2:20)!
Jesus invites us each day, as he invited Levi in today’s Gospel, to follow him. We are given the same invitation and opportunity for healing and for discipleship. Will we resist rationalizing and justifying our sinful thoughts, actions, and habits, welcome the light of Jesus that reveals our venial and mortal sins, admit our need of healing, and repent so to be forgiven and released from all the energy we have expended in protecting and hiding from ourselves and our God who loves us more than we can ever mess up?
Quietly spending time daily, especially in the evening and recalling our day, by asking Jesus to reveal to us those ways in which we have not lived according to his will is a wonderful practice. Those venial sins we call to mind we can confess on the spot and Jesus will forgive us. As we recognize recurring actions or more grave sins, we will need a more direct human encounter by embracing the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Reconciliation is a gift of mercy and healing where we can experience firsthand the healing grace of Jesus.
Jesus loves us as we are. Yet holding on to our sin, keeps us at a distance from experiencing the greater breadth, depth, and width of his love. When we are willing to be contrite, to embrace sorrow for the harm we have inflicted with our personal sins, and go to the Divine Physician we receive his forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Once absolved, the heavy weight is lifted. We are then better able to engage in penance to atone for our sins committed, better able to forgive others as we have been forgiven, and better able to love as we have been loved!
Photo: The Calling of St. Matthew (also known as Levi) by Carravagio, 1599-1600. Wonderful work to meditate upon for Lent!