In today’s Gospel, we have the 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, we know that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. But today 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 for good reason; Jewish law taught that sinners were to be shunned; they were cast out of the community. But Jesus has come to say that he hates the sin but loves the sinner, that nothing in us is beyond the power of God to redeem. 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 in through the ministry of the Church.
Sin is a terrible thing. It’s often cyclical. Because not only does the judgment of the Pharisees 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. Instead, he 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, and for that we should be always grateful.