In today’s Gospel, we have the continued Epiphany of Jesus manifested as one who identifies with sinners. That is not, of course, to say that he was a sinner; quite the contrary, because we know that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. In this Gospel passage, though, we see that he is certainly concerned with calling sinners to the Kingdom, and concerned enough that he will be known to be in their company. He eats with them, talks with them, walks with them.
This of course, riles the Pharisees. And, to be fair, for good reason; Jewish law taught that sinners were to be shunned; they were cast out of the community. But Jesus distancing himself from sinners would only reinforce the barrier that sin puts between us and God. Not eating with sinners means there is no redemption. So nothing that we have done can put us so far away from God that we are beyond God’s reach. And God does reach out to us, in tangible ways, in sacramental ways, in the person of Jesus and through the ministry of the Church.
Sin is a terrible thing. It’s often cyclical. Because not only does the judgment of the Pharisees – and others – make sinners feel unworthy; but also does the guilt that comes from inside the sinner. The more one sins, the less worthy one often feels of God’s love, and so the more does that person turn away from God, and then they sin more, feel less worthy, turn away again, and so on, and so on, and so on.
But Jesus won’t have any of that – he has come to put an end to that cycle once and for all. Jesus is the One who walks into the midst of sinners, sits down with them and has a meal. He is the divine physician healing our souls, and those who do not sin do not need his ministry. But we sinners do, so thanks be to God for the manifestation of Jesus as one who came to dine with sinners.