Jesus focused on tax collectors and prostitutes. Both professions are still around. Hopefully we think a little better of one than the other. You can give me your opinion after Holy Mass.
Opinions are like belly buttons, everybody’s got one. People talk. We always talk. Some of us talk in our sleep. We are usually expressing our opinion when we talk. Public opinions got Jesus crucified; cause wars; win or lose elections. Opinions make or break people. The tax collectors and prostitutes were not at the top of the social ladder. Most folks looked down on them, because of what they did—which was considered to be sinful. Remember, that Our Lord was criticized for associating with them. By being in proximity to them, Jesus defiled Himself. Just like we keep away from people who have a contagious disease, folks kept away from sinners. Our attitude is somewhat relaxed about associating with sinners, but we have our share of prejudices. A list of “Thou shall nots” is given to children and people for whom we care so that they will avoid associating with bad company. Contamination by association. We are blatantly afraid of some people, just because of what others have said about them. Others, we purposely avoid. Jesus was speaking to the chief priests and the elders. They had put up walls against some people. They were in charge—spiritual leaders of the people. Therefore, their opinion was credible. What the chief priests and the elders said became the norm that everyone had to follow. Since they looked down on tax collectors and prostitutes that meant that everyone else should also.
Talk about a “small town” mentality. Everybody knew everybody’s business. Jesus was disturbed to see how some “sinners” were cast aside because of their past. There was no forgiveness—no second chances—no opportunity to make things right. In essence, the sinners were ousted from the community. Imagine what would happen if on any given day all sinners in this Parish were asked to leave. There is a story about a similar situation. A priest was giving a retreat to a convent of cloistered nuns. At one point he got really inspired and said, “I want all of the nuns who sinned this week to walk out of here right now!” So, they all started to leave. Heads bowed, remorseful, they headed for the door. Except for one. The priest said, “Thank you Lord, because out of so many, there is at least one who is, pure, holy, and without sin.” Then a young nun poked her head in the door and said, “Someone tell the deaf sister to get out.”
The Sacraments are the lifeblood of the Church, particularly Reconciliation and Holy Communion, which go hand in hand. We need to be reconciled over and over so that we can approach the Table of the Lord. Never worthily, always with a contrite spirit. We recognize that we are not perfect, but are being perfected, even by our mistakes. We make wrong choices, we offend each other, we neglect people in need. Problem is that we know what needs to be done. We know what the Father wants. According to the example that Jesus gave, if we first respond negatively or ignore our responsibility, the important thing is to repent. How did Jesus know that we were going to mess up? How could the Lord be aware of our modern problems? Because He made us. He knows our defects. Interesting how some folks play “hide and go seek” about their weaknesses. We hide behind words, especially in Confession. “I committed that sin several times, occasionally, only once or twice.” Who cares? Do we think that God is keeping track? Our attitude is what is important. Once we realize the damage we are doing to others or to ourselves, and we make up our mind to do what the Father’s will—then we are on the road to freedom. Jesus clarified that He was not looking for self-righteous people, but for the repentant sinner.
We might not classify ourselves as the worst sinners on earth; but there’s always room for improvement. Repentance is the first step.