From the Pastor – September 15, 2013

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Lk 15:2b)

Jesus was often criticized during His earthly ministry. He was criticized for breaking Mosaic law (curing on the Sabbath). He was criticized for fraternizing with a woman (the woman at the well). He was criticized for being a glutton and a drunkard (contra John the Baptist). And He was criticized for blasphemy (for forgiving sins). But one of the most frequent criticisms of Jesus was that He ate and drank with sinners. Sometimes, we can use that criticism to justify our own conduct. So what’s the big deal if I hang out with sinners? Jesus did the same thing!

There is a different reality: God came to save His people from their sins. The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” God sent us His Son to save us from the darkness of sin and death and to bring us into the light of Heaven. So the purpose of Jesus’ eating with sinners was to save them from their sins, not to comfort them in their sinfulness.

Occasionally I deal with parishioners caught in dilemmas. Two recent dilemmas involved parishioners who were invited to “weddings.” I put that word in quotations because one of the “weddings” involved a Catholic man who had divorced his wife and had decided to marry his girlfriend (herself the cause of the broken marriage) and the other involved a Catholic man who had decided to “marry” another man. Each parishioner had to decide whether to attend. They were faced with two questions: Would going to the wedding show “approval” of the objectively sinful acts? Or could they “be like Jesus” and eat and drink with sinners?

Jesus didn’t dine with sinners as means of showing His approval for their conduct. In fact, every encounter between Jesus and a sinner (leave the hypocrites out of this) involved a story of conversion. Jesus came to pull them – and us –out of sin; not to bless and approve it.

The first step for each of us is to recognize the role of Jesus in our lives. Are you a sinner? Then Jesus came for you! But He didn’t come to “comfort us” in our sin. He calls us to a radical conversion of heart. He’s constantly calling us to convert away from the thoughts, words and deeds that lead to destruction. And He’s calling us to embrace the truth of the Gospel, which is utterly, radically, entirely different from the ways of the world. If we could find salvation in a worldly way of living, then we would have no need to be saved by Christ.

This Sunday, Jesus tells three stories. One is about a lost sheep, one is about a lost drachma, and one is about a lost son. In the end, each of those things is found. And the ending is happy in each case. But we’re not sheep or drachma. We’re sons and daughters. They key to our happiness isn’t just being found. It’s responding to His call to conversion. He will find us. The response is up to us.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty