Today is Saturday, February 17th. In reflecting on the readings for today, I keep coming back to the Gospel of Luke and specifically to two sentences. The first is, “Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me’” The second is, “The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’” Those two sentences are the focus of this reflection.
A tax collector! Jesus chose a tax collector to extend the invitation “Follow Me”. In this modern age, it is hard for us to realize the contempt cast upon a tax collector in Jewish society at that time. A tax collector was a traitor, working for the occupying army of Rome, enforcing the payment of taxes from a pagan emperor, and all for the tax collector’s benefit. The tax collector was compensated financially and was protected by the Roman army. Tax collectors were on par with the worst of the sinners. Yet Jesus chose a tax collector! I look upon the story of Levi with great hope. Hope that, even when I am at the height of my own sinfulness, the invitation to “Follow me” still echoes.
“The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’”. My how the pharisees and scribes reside in me. It was my daughter, Gabrielle, who illuminated that for me. Gabrielle’s undergraduate degree was in Criminology & Criminal Justice. I had visions of her doing law enforcement, law, or work in a federal agency. Gabrielle elected to go on to earn a Masters in Social Work. She now spends a good part of her work week IN JAIL. She is a Mitigation Special for the Public Defender’s office.
I am, to a large extent, a “justice” person. However, I now see that, in many cases, mercy needs to be part of justice. What my daughter has taught me is that there is tremendous brokenness and woundedness amongst those that sit in our jail cells today. Like the physician referenced by Christ in today’s Gospel, that brokenness has to be mended and those wounds need to be tended to.
Many of us who wear a collar do prison ministry and bring Christ to those imprisoned. I applaud them! Today I humbly give thanks however to the many men and women who as mental health experts, counselors and therapists, volunteers in social service agencies and ministries, public defenders and, yes, mitigation specialists, who bring the light of Christ to those society may see as nothing more than sinners.