We all receive invitations to dinner parties. Sometimes these invitations come from people we know, like family or friends. Sometimes the invitations come from someone we don’t know very well, like an invitation to a fund raiser. Maybe it’s an invitation that is part of a raffle: All we have to do is send in our fifty dollars for a raffle ticket for a chance to have dinner with the pastor or the retreat director or the bishop!
Would it not be amazingly exciting to receive an invitation to have dinner with Jesus! We would not have to send in fifty dollars or even one dollar. The dinner would be free. Well, not exactly. We would have to pass the qualification test to show that we are sinners.
In the Gospel today Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector and therefore a sinner to the Jewish people, to be a disciple. Immediately after that brief incident, we observe Jesus at a meal with Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees are scandalized that Jesus, whom everyone considered to be holy, is eating and talking with very unholy people. Jesus replies: I have come to invite the sinners.
Notice that the Pharisees are outside. They are not sitting at the dinner table. They don’t see themselves as sinners and would not want to be around sinners. They worked hard to be righteous. Every day they made sure they obeyed the Ten Commandments and all the other regulations. If God dared to call them sinners, they could produce their day’s activities and prove they weren’t sinners. We, like the Pharisees, don’t like to see ourselves as sinners. “It was only a white lie.” “I haven’t hurt anyone.” “Everyone else is doing it.” “I’m not as bad as that person.”
In many ways we excuse ourselves and rationalize our behavior. In so doing we actually distance ourselves from Jesus Christ. We don’t let him fulfill his mission: “Christ died for us while we were still sinners” Rom. 5:8. To be closer to Jesus we need to make that honest assessment of ourselves as sinners. When we do, that’s when we receive the invitation, perhaps many invitations, to dine with Jesus, with his three-course feast of forgiveness, grace and healing.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness for Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.