Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, January 13, 2018 — “Many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples.”

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 310

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Art: Many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples

Reading 1  1 SM 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1

There was a stalwart man from Benjamin named Kish,
who was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror,
son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite.
He had a son named Saul, who was a handsome young man.
There was no other child of Israel more handsome than Saul;
he stood head and shoulders above the people.

Now the asses of Saul’s father, Kish, had wandered off.
Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you
and go out and hunt for the asses.”
Accordingly they went through the hill country of Ephraim,
and through the land of Shalishah.
Not finding them there,
they continued through the land of Shaalim without success.
They also went through the land of Benjamin,
but they failed to find the animals.

When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD assured him,
“This is the man of whom I told you; he is to govern my people.”

Saul met Samuel in the gateway and said,
“Please tell me where the seer lives.”
Samuel answered Saul: “I am the seer.
Go up ahead of me to the high place and eat with me today.
In the morning, before dismissing you,
I will tell you whatever you wish.”

Then, from a flask he had with him, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head;
he also kissed him, saying:
“The LORD anoints you commander over his heritage.
You are to govern the LORD’s people Israel,
and to save them from the grasp of their enemies roundabout.

“This will be the sign for you
that the LORD has anointed you commander over his heritage.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (2a) Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
O LORD, in your strength the king is glad;
in your victory how greatly he rejoices!
You have granted him his heart’s desire;
you refused not the wish of his lips.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
For you welcomed him with goodly blessings,
you placed on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked life of you: you gave him
length of days forever and ever.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
Great is his glory in your victory;
majesty and splendor you conferred upon him.
For you made him a blessing forever;
you gladdened him with the joy of your face.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.

Alleluia LK 4:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Lord sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor
and to proclaim liberty to captives.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Pharisees look on as Jesus dines with tax collectors and sinners at Matthew’s house

Gospel  MK 2:13-17

Jesus went out along the sea.
All the crowd came to him and he taught them.
As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus,
sitting at the customs post.
Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed Jesus.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples;
for there were many who followed him.
Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 JANUARY, 2018, Saturday, 1st Week, Ordinary Time
CHOOSING SPIRITUAL LEADERS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 SM 9:1-4,17-1910:1MK 2:13-17   ]

How successful or how great a nation or an organization is, is very much dependent on the quality of its leaders.  On one hand, with a sophisticated and educated people, it would seem that choosing leaders should not be a problem.  Yet, regardless how intelligent, brilliant and eloquent someone can be, he might not be the best person to be a leader.  Indeed, we tend to look on the external qualities when choosing leaders.  This was the case in the selection of Saul as the first King of Israel.  We are told that he was not only handsome but “he stood head and shoulders taller than the rest of the people.” He must have been a capable young man and admired by many.  He therefore seemed the most appropriate candidate for leadership.

However, history shows that although Saul had every talent and skill needed to manage the country and be a good leader; he lacked the right motivation and the interior qualities of leadership.  He was proud and independent of others and most of all, of God.  Instead of consulting God and listening to His commands and walking in His laws, he took matters into his own hands, relying only on his ingenuity and skills rather than the wisdom and guidance of God.  As a consequence, he brought paganism into the country and his strength was on horses and military might.  He was insecure as a king and because of his jealousy and fear, would even destroy and eliminate those whom he felt were a threat to his kingship.  He was particularly weary and paranoid with David who seemed more popular and capable than him, in spite of his absolute loyalty to him.  He was vindictive and insincere even towards those who supported him.  As a consequence, he brought disaster upon himself and his country.

This does not mean that the choice of Saul as king was wrong.  The crux of the failure lay in Saul himself.  He did not make use of the talents that God gave him for the good of the people and for the service of God.  Instead, he used his talents, position and abilities for himself, his vested interests.  If he had made use of his resources wisely, he would certainly have been a great king.  This explains why God chose Saul to be the king of Israel.  It was not because God chose the wrong person but because he failed to exercise the gifts God gave him wisely and selflessly.

Indeed, it would be a mistake to think that God always chooses the uneducated, those without talents and skills to fulfill His work on earth.  Grace does not destroy nature but perfects nature.  So we cannot imagine, as some do, that God will work miracles in those who are not endowed with talents, especially intellectual and leadership skills, so that they could be outstanding leaders.  It is a naïve belief of some Catholics to think that if they send those who cannot study or who are failures in life to join the priesthood, God will take care of the rest.  It would be disastrous for the people of God to have people without the necessary pre-requisites in intellectual and emotional capacity to become religious leaders.  On the contrary, God would choose those who already have been blessed with leadership qualities to be His leaders.

However, the real challenge of choosing leaders is not simply spotting those who obviously qualify because of their leadership qualities, but those unlikely ones whose talents are hidden or unknown to them and to us.  This is where a good leader is able to read beyond the externals and recognize the potential that lies behind such a person, even though, apparently, he or she seems to be a most unlikely candidate for discipleship, much less for leadership.  This is precisely the case in the selection of Levi or Matthew.

Jesus shows His foresight and keen observation of people in His choice of St Matthew as His disciple and leader.  Matthew was the most unlikely of all choices because he was a traitor of the Jews by virtue of his work as a tax collector for the Roman Empire.  He was an outcast, a cheat and most despised by his fellow Jews.  Yet, of all peoples, Jesus chose him to be His disciple and later, as His apostle.  In the eyes of man, it was a wrong choice.  In the eyes of the righteous Jewish leaders, Jesus must be blind.  They grumbled when He visited Matthew’s house to eat and drink with him and his friends.  The scribes of the Pharisee party said to Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  What does Jesus want to tell us and teach us with regard to choosing people to be on our team and even making them into future leaders?

Firstly, Jesus saw not the current Matthew, but what he could become in the future.  Jesus does not look at our past but always the future.  That is why He told the self-righteous Jewish leaders, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.  I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.”  Jesus demonstrated confidence in him.  Jesus was able to recognize the goodness in Matthew.  He could see the hidden qualities in him whilst not being blind to his human frailties.  He knew that Matthew was sick and needed a divine physician, yet that did not rule out the goodness in him.  Jesus could see the saint in the sinner, the disciple in the lost, the leader in the one who used his skills selfishly.   It takes one with a keen eye to see the real and hidden potential of someone who is condemned and despised by the world.

Secondly, He won over him by loving and being connected with him.  St Matthew must have felt Jesus’ genuine interest and concern over his welfare and happiness.  Perhaps, it was for this reason that Matthew was willing to give up his lucrative business as a tax collector.  Jesus could not offer him much in terms of wealth and power and status.  On the contrary, he knew that he would have had to live simply and even be persecuted by following Jesus.  He too would have had to sacrifice his comfort and security for Him.  But he recognized that love and union with God and true friendship with Him was worth all the security of the world.

To know whom we should appoint as leaders, we must first get to know them as fellow collaborators, then as friends.  We need to see how they live, what they think, how they relate with their family members, their friends, so that we know their true character.  Leadership is more than just having the required skills but we need one who has character, which is revealed in a life of integrity, compassion, responsibility, fidelity and honesty.  Leaders without good character will only serve themselves and bring harm to the people whom they are supposedly to serve.  Unfortunately, most of the time, we are only concerned about their resume, qualifications and performance, without taking into account their personal lifestyle and character.   In fact, character is what will determine whether a person with talents will be committed to the service of the people.  One can be talented, but driven by ambition to fulfill his or her craze for glory, honour and power.  Such a person appointed to a position of authority can eventually become a dictator.

Thirdly, we need to help those with hidden talents and potentials to come to realize their endowed gifts.   Very often, people do not believe in themselves because their talents are not acknowledged.  Jesus is an exemplar of a good leader and mentor who patiently groomed His apostles, helping them to recognize their weaknesses and at the same time, their inner strengths and skills.  Through constant interaction with our people, eating, drinking and working with them, we, too, will be able to cultivate a true understanding of their character and bring out their hidden potentials. Without recognizing the goodness in people, we will never find any leaders, as no one is without imperfections and weaknesses.  There is no such thing as a perfect leader, as no one is born perfect!

Most of all, the leader we should choose is one who is connected with God and love God above all things.  Unless a leader fears God and relies on Him, he will only seek the wisdom of the world in dealing with problems.  If he does not serve God, he will not be capable of serving man, but only himself.  That is why it is important that we choose a leader who is prayerful, humble and respectful of God so that he would never rely on his own strength but in God alone.

All of us are called in some ways.  We might think we are not worthy of leadership because we are not so capable or we might think we make great leaders because we are so gifted in many ways.  What is important for us in not what we choose to do for God but rather, we must in all humility and sincerity search and discern for ourselves what God really wishes for us to do.  When God calls us, He qualifies each one of us.  He knows what we can do and what we can accomplish if we surrender our lives to Him.  So, when we are called for leadership, not because of our desire but because of God’s desire, we can be sure that God will see us through, and supply what is lacking in us.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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From Living Space: Commentary on Mark 2:13-17

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Jesus certainly chose some very strange people to be his followers. Levi was a tax collector, one of a much despised group of people. The Romans did not collect taxes themselves from their subject people. Local people paid a lump sum to the Romans and they had the right to recoup their deposit in taxes. Of course, they had to make a profit and this laid the system open to widespread abuse and corruption. They were regarded as both traitors to their own people in collecting taxes for Rome, the hated colonial power. They and their families were social outcasts. No self-respecting and observant Jew would have anything to do with such people.

Yet, here is Jesus offering one such person an invitation, “Follow me.” We need to know that Jesus never goes by stereotypes. Nor does he judge people by their past behaviour. He is only interested in what they can be now and in the future. There and then, Levi drops everything and goes after Jesus. That is what following Jesus means. It is what Peter and Andrew, James and John had also done.

Later, when Jesus is dining at “his” house, several known sinners and tax collectors are at table with Jesus and his disciples. The ‘his’ is (deliberately?) ambiguous. Is it the house of Levi or the house of Jesus? In either case, it is very meaningful. Jesus eats in a sinner’s house or he invites a sinner to eat in his house. Perhaps they are celebrating Levi’s becoming a follower. And who else could Levi have invited if not the only people who would mix with him – other tax collectors and outcasts? But, in addition the Gospel comments that, “There were many of them [tax collectors and their like] among Jesus’ followers”.

This is was a real source of scandal for the scribes and Pharisees. If Jesus really was a Rabbi he would have had nothing to do with such people. To sit down and eat with such “unclean” people was to be contaminated oneself. Jesus replies: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners.”

As we have already seen, Jesus’ whole mission is one of salvation and redemption of restoring people to wholeness. And how is he to help sinners change, unless he is in direct contact with them? By being with sinners, Jesus is not approving or condoning or turning a blind eye to their behaviour. He describes them as “sick”; they are in need of healing and rehabilitation. This can only be done by reaching out to them.
Of course, one can ask if those judging Jesus were not also sick and in need of healing themselves. The difference was that the ‘sinners’ approached Jesus; while the Pharisees could not see or acknowledge their particular kind of sin and consequent need of healing.

Perhaps our Church should look more closely at this passage. So much of our Church work involves “servicing” the already converted or the semi-converted. We are often not present where people are most in need of hearing the Gospel message. We tend to side with the Pharisees and feel we should keep away from the ‘sinful’ and the ‘immoral’.

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We also need to learn the ways by which the Gospel message and the Gospel vision can most effectively be communicated to those who have lost touch with God and the meaning of life.

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Question: “What is the significance of Jesus eating with sinners?”

Answer: In Mark 2, soon after calling Matthew to follow Him, Jesus ate a meal with “many publicans and sinners” in Matthew’s house (verse 15). Matthew had been a tax collector (publican), and these were his friends and acquaintances who were now spending time with Jesus (cf. Luke 5:39). The scribes and the Pharisees complained, but Jesus’ actions in spending time with sinners transcended His culture and actually should define Christian culture as we know it.

In Jesus’ day, rabbis and other spiritual leaders were the highest members of Jewish society. Everyone looked up to the Pharisees. They were strict adherents to the Law and tradition, and they avoided those whom they deemed “sinners” because they had a “clean” image to maintain. Tax collectors, infamous for embezzlement and their cooperation with the hated Romans, definitely fell into the “sinner” category.

As Jesus’ ministry grew, so did His popularity among the social outcasts of society. Now that Matthew was part of His inner circle, Jesus naturally had more contact with the pariahs in Matthew’s circle. Spending time with the publicans and sinners was part of Jesus’ mission: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). If Jesus was to reach the lost, He must have some contact with them. He went to where the need was because “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Praise the Lord, the Great Physician makes house calls.

Sitting at Matthew’s dinner table, Jesus may have broken some societal taboos, but His presence there shows that He looked beyond culture to people’s hearts. Whereas the Pharisees wrote people off simply because of their profession or their past, Jesus looked past all that and saw their need.

Jesus also transcended culture when He conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well—even His disciples were surprised by that one (John 4:27). Other telling incidents: Jesus forgives an immoral woman in Luke 7, He helps a Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7, He touches a leper in Luke 5, and He enters Zacchaeus’s house in Luke 19.

Jesus came to save sinners (Luke 19:10). Tradition, cultural bans, and the frowns of a few do not matter when a soul’s eternal destiny is on the line.

The fact that Jesus saw individuals, not just their labels, no doubt inspired them to know Him better. They recognized Jesus as a righteous man, a man of God—the miracles He performed bore witness to that—and they saw His compassion and sincerity.

Jesus didn’t let social status or cultural norms dictate His relationships with people. As the Good Shepherd, He sought the lost sheep wherever they had strayed. When Matthew hosted the dinner party, Jesus gladly accepted the invitation. It was a wonderful opportunity to share the good news of the kingdom with those who most needed to hear (see Matthew 4:23). Yes, He would be criticized for His actions, but what prophet ever lived without criticism?

Jesus transcended cultural norms and was not above spending time with the outcasts of society. He spoke truth to sinners and loved them; He offered them hope, based on their repentance and faith in Himself (Mark 1:15).

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus didn’t require people to change before coming to Him. He sought them out, met them where they were, and extended grace to them in their circumstances. Change would come to those who accepted Christ, but it would be from the inside out. Jesus knew better than anyone that the kindness of God leads sinners to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Jesus showed us that we shouldn’t let cultural norms dictate whom we evangelize. The sick need a physician. Lost sheep need a shepherd. Are we praying the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the field (Luke 10:2)? Are we willing to go ourselves?

Recommended Resources: Jesus: The Greatest Life of All by Charles Swindoll and Logos Bible Software.

Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-with-sinners.html#ixzz3OzV5091v

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