Saturday - March 4th - LK 5:27-32
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus said to them in reply, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."
Reflection by Mary Tellier
In Luke 5, Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, who immediately follows him and throws a banquet with other sinners. Once again, Jesus is seen rubbing elbows with "undesirables," a frequent occurrence throughout the gospels. He has been known to reach out to prostitutes, adulterers, those possessed by demons, and other tax collectors. Just like in these previous passages, the Pharisees and scribes are incredulous that Jesus would eat with these people; however, Jesus responds, "I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."
When I have read this passage in the past, I always felt a little excluded from his reply. So often, the gospels portray these "sinners" as people who commit really terrible crimes. I felt left out because I haven't been caught in adultery, I am not possessed by demons, and I don't collect taxes. I am just your regular run-of-the-mill sinner. I struggle with a multitude of sins, but perhaps mine are subtler and not something for which I will be stoned to death (hopefully). I wonder, "Did Jesus actually come for me too?" In other words, am I sick enough to be loved by Him?
In our world, "sickness" is not limited to the most serious diseases, such as cancer or ALS; the term could cover something as trivial as a common cold. Similarly, Jesus' role as Healer encompasses all sorts of diseases; He came to save all sinners, regardless of how severe their sins were. All sins separate us from the grace of God; a proclivity for white lies, gossip, pride, and laziness are all worth Jesus' time.
Perhaps what the Pharisees and scribes (and I) missed in these encounters with Jesus is that Christ wasn't excluding them. They, like me, might have felt like they were above the serious sins of the tax collector or the prostitute. Yet, at no point did Jesus suggest that he hadn't come to save them, too. The difference between Levi and the Pharisees is that Levi was willing to admit that he needed healing.
In reflecting on this passage and on the ways in which I can grow during Lent, my prayer is that I can be like Levi. When Jesus calls out to me in my sickness, all I need is to be open to His love and grace and push aside the pride that stands in the way of His healing touch. Every day, I should lean on the Lord, remembering that I am sick and need my Doctor, even when I feel like I just have the sniffles.
Friday - March 3 MT 9:14-15
The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,v"Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast."
Reflection by Geoffrey Philabaum: "The Wedding Party"
This is a situation we've probably all encountered on one side or the other. The disciples of John the Baptist are upset because the disciples of Jesus aren't being serious enough with their faith. John the Baptist was eating bugs and honey while wearing a hair shirt crying out in the desert to bring himself closer to God, and it worked! He baptized Jesus after all. Logically, John's disciples felt a similar level of sacrifice and self-control was necessary for themselves and others as well. Even those awful Pharisees fasted twice a week to honor Moses bringing down the Tablets of Law for goodness sake.
But... Jesus' disciples just weren't there yet, and Jesus, like the masterful teacher he was, knew that to discipline through fasting or to miss the opportunities feasting provides to a budding community would be a mistake. The disciples were still in a state of awe and wonder at the recent miracles, yet still racked with doubt about their purpose in the big picture. To ask more sacrifice of these insecure and unseasoned people would not draw them closer to God nor each other, but would (at best) tear a hole in the cloak of faith they'd sewn or (at worst) rupture it altogether.
Jesus knew we must meet people where they are, not where we are and certainly not where we expect them to be. He knew that one day things would get very serious for His pupils. He knew the disciples would very shortly see the magnitude of His sacrifice and the gravity of their purpose would be realized. But not yet...
There's a reason this story is told twice (here and in Luke). We, as human beings, love to say, "I can't believe so and so does this." "Can you believe they had the audacity to do this?" "Did you see them do that when they were supposed to do this?" Instead of following this line of thought, Jesus is asking us to try to think about the dignity of our fellow human beings and their stories. The person you see and judge might not be where you are; they might not understand why you do what you do either. Instead of offering criticism, begin a conversation and begin it with love. At the end of the day, we're all in this together.
Thursday - March 2 - LK 9:22-25
Jesus said to his disciples: "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?"
Reflection by Sue Wilkinson
In reading the Gospels and stories about Jesus, or that Jesus tells, the theme of this Gospel is one that comes up again and again. Jesus is willing to do so much for us and asks for so little in return. The beginning of this passage outlines what He does for us: Jesus doesn't just die for our sins, although that is certainly what He comes to earth to do. He is rejected by the people He has grown up with, those whom He has spent time caring for, speaking with and teaching. The elders in his faith reject Him publicly and then ridicule and berate Him. The crown of thorns placed upon His head was meant to make fun of Jesus as King of the Jews and also serves as a device to hurt and torture Him. He was made to carry His cross through the streets so that all could see and further humiliate Him. This too is an element meant to create pain. He suffered greatly. Experts estimate that the cross Jesus carried weighed 150 to 300 pounds, which He carried while walking the Via Dolorosa, stumbling and falling three times. Then they cast lots to see who would get His sandals and clothing. This was another way to humiliate our Lord and Savior, as was offering him vinegar to drink when He said that He was thirsty. According to the Gospels, it took six hours from the beginning of the crucifixion until he ultimately died. Torture, indeed.
And what does Jesus ask us to do in return? We are asked to take up our cross and follow Him. But the cross we must carry bears little resemblance to the one that Jesus carried. He wants us to love one another as He loved us. He wants us to live our lives as examples of His life and love. He wants us to spread His Word.
In summary, Jesus suffered and died for the sake of our sins and to give us everlasting life. In return, He would like us to love one another and live our lives for Him. It seems little enough to do for One who gave His all for us. It also seems like Lent is the perfect time to make more of an effort to do these things that Jesus wanted from us. Let's all give it a try in this Lenten season.
Ash Wednesday, March 1 - MT 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your alms-giving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
Reflection by Bridget Gillane
"You can either practice being right or practice being kind."
As a child I never understood what my dad found enjoyable about AM talk radio. I felt like that was all he listened to in the car and it bored me to tears! But now, as an adult, I find myself loving a good podcast, which is basically the new generation of talk radio.
Walking on the treadmill last week, I listened to the podcast, "Exactly", hosted by Kelly Corrigan. She was interviewing writer Anne Lamott. If you're not familiar with Anne Lamott, this is all I need to say about her: I read her memoirs in college and they not only made me laugh out loud (something I usually don't do when reading) but also showed me what living life as a real, flawed, human that identifies as a Christian means. She broke down the idea of being a picture-perfect, everything-in-its place kind of Christian to show that none of that has anything to do with how close, worthy, and loved by God we are.
In this episode of the podcast, I was reminded of how Matthew's Gospel for today actually teaches us how to be an imperfect, flawed, non-picture-perfect Christian:
1. Do good things, lift people up, and act with compassion because that is what Jesus would do, and that is our ultimate goal.
2. Pray because you want to have a connection with God.
3. Give up something or fast because doing so will help you understand just how much you need God in your life.
And note: for any of these effects to take hold in your life, none of these said actions need to be flashy. Nothing needs to be announced. All effort and energy put forth is only for the parties involved, not anyone else. If your way doesn't look like your neighbor's way, that's ok.
I love Anne Lamott for the scripture she clarifies for me, but even more than that, I love and am greatly comforted by the love that our God has for us as imperfect humans. So, I'm going to take today's Gospel and let it serve as my instruction manual for every day, but particularly in this Lenten season. I hope you will too.