Counting for Something
Sunday Homily for June 8, 2008
tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
This Sunday we hear that Jesus spent a lot of time with sinners and outcasts. Of course, the culture of his time and place forbade eating with such people, but he did it anyway. He even accepted Matthew as an apostle—a member of the hated group called tax collectors.
In Sunday’s Gospel the Pharisees summed all this up in a question. "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus overheard the question and gave this response.
“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
It is an enigmatic answer, but it tells us a lot about Our Lord and his mission. For one thing, he does not need to go after those who have heard the call. They are already in process. So his heart goes out to the ones who have strayed, who have not answered his call or even heard it. A simple way to put it is that he loves sinners and he loves the shamed. You and I do not need to be afraid if we find guilt in ourselves.
Another thought: What if Jesus had added to his statement something like this: “Those who have experienced poverty and sin are more able to open their ears and listen to the Word. You rich, well placed people have a much tougher time of it.” In fact he did say it in another place.
How could this be? Well-placed people have ears like the rest of us. If the sound enters their heads, what could be the problem?
But there is a difference between listening and paying attention while listening.
Paying attention means allowing the real meaning of someone’s words sink down into yourself, light up some lights in you, and then to respond appropriately. There is not always time to do this, of course, but if the one speaking and calling is Jesus, maybe you need to take some time and attend to what he says.
Did you ever go through a reception line where the celebrity or politician greeted you but had his or her head turned away, looking to the next person while seeming to listen to you? Did it seem like you really counted for something?
But you do count for something, even if fear and doubt fill you. Whatever it is that you do in order to mask your fear probably stops you from really hearing. Maybe you need to be impoverished!
Don’t get me wrong. Impoverished people are not guaranteed fault-free, far from it. But maybe their sorrows are digging out souls in them that respond tenderly to words of care. Or to laughter. Or tears. Or God’s love.
Remember Mary of Bethany? She sat at Jesus’ feet listening with fascination while Martha worked and worked on the dinner. Which one was distracted? According to Jesus, Mary had chosen “the one thing necessary,” she kept Jesus in mind, “and it would not be taken away from her.”
Alright, what about you and me? Are we getting by without paying attention? Are we in one of our usual ruts regarding our family or our fellow workers or friends—or Jesus? Ask whether you have chosen the one thing necessary, the only thing that will not be taken away from you.
Ask yourself whether Jesus would dine with you.