Tax collectors were reviled among the Jewish people in Jesus’ time, not only because they aided the financial efforts of the occupying Roman force, but also because they associated with ritually unclean Gentiles in doing so, and because some collected more than the law required.
Despite that reputation, Levi—also known as Matthew—is more willing to following Jesus than the religiously observant scribes and Pharisees. He has more awareness of his own sinfulness and the need for a Savior, whereas the Jewish leaders allow the pride of their position to blind them from recognizing the one who came to fulfill the Old Covenant, to which they were so devoted (see Matt. 5:17).
The characters in today’s Gospel bring to life the parable Jesus tells later in Luke about a Pharisee and a publican, i.e., a tax collector, praying in the temple (18:9-14). In the parable, the Pharisee seeks to exalt himself before God because of his faithful service, whereas the publican beseeches God for mercy.
Similarly, in today’s reading, Levi responds to Christ’s call and becomes one of the Twelve Apostles (Matt. 10:1-4), while the scribes and the Pharisees admonish Jesus for associating with such a sinner. “Those who are healthy do not need a physician,” Jesus replies, “but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
The scribes and Pharisees, and those like them, need to be wary of the sin of presumption (CCC 2092), as if they were the source of their righteousness and not God.
Be mindful not to fall into the proud mindset of the scribes and Pharisees, especially if you’re in a leadership position in serving the Church. We need to model the mercy of the Master, recalling that we are in need of the Lord’s mercy, and that he will use a similar standard in judging us that we employ in judging others (Matt. 7:2).
At the same time, Church leaders need to stand up for the truth and exhort those who give public scandal, even if the scandalous are powerful public figures or political leaders. These figures and leaders need disciplinary measures for their own spiritual well-being and out of concern for others they may lead astray (CCC 2284-87).
If you’re struggling with other sins besides presumption, take heart that the Divine Physician is available to heal you of all sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation through the ministry of his priests (John 20:23). He’s there to pick you up again and again if you fall, despite your making a firm purpose of amendment. Maybe you have loved ones who have strayed from Christ and his Catholic Church. Take heart that Jesus loves them even more than you do, as he greatly loved the tax-collecting Matthew and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), and that he seeks out your loved ones as the Good Shepherd (Luke 15:3-7). Continue your prayers and efforts to keep lines of communication open with them.
Extend mercy freely and be aware of our own need for mercy. Good lessons for us to learn and re-learn during Lent. May we all turn anew to the Divine Physician and help others to do the same.
[Readings: Is 58:9b-14; Lk 5:27-32]