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January 19, 2019: Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Reading Hebrews 4:12-16
Gospel Mark 2:13-17

As He passed by, He saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post.

In today’s Gospel passage from the second chapter of Mark, Jesus lays down part of the foundation for His public ministry. The events of today’s Gospel took place not long after Jesus’ Baptism, which inaugurated His public ministry. The last sentence of the passage holds several clues for us about Jesus’ earthly mission.

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” If we took these words at face value, we might consider “the righteous” to be the Pharisaic scribes who provoked these words from Jesus. Obviously the scribes considered themselves so. But like Jesus’ parables and so much else in His preaching, there is a paradox at work. Jesus turns the popular notions of who is righteous and who is a sinner on their heads.

We could certainly not say that the tax collectors and other “sinners” were made righteous simply by the act of physically dining with Jesus. But the physical proximity, and the closeness it suggests, make clear that neither Jesus nor the “sinner” shuns the other’s company. We cannot receive spiritual and moral righteousness from Jesus if we don’t enter His presence and spend time with Him, especially in the sacrificial banquet of the Eucharist. To shun him there would be to stand like the scribes, aloof and self-righteous.