Reflection for Friday, July 2, 1999: 13th week in Ordinary Time.

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Wirth, Eileen
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Today's short passage from Matthew shows Jesus risking the esteem of respectable people to convert Matthew, the tax collector - probably roughly equivalent to socializing with members of the Mafia to try to reform them.||And we love it. This is another one of those passages that debunks any image of Jesus as pietistic or holier-than-thou. This is a Jesus we can really like because He sees the potential goodness in people despite their sins.||Even when we try to lead virtuous lives, many of us are uncomfortable around people who make too big a show of their piety. We'd rather be around "real people" who may sin but also live their lives with zest. That's the attitude that Jesus seems to display in this passage.|He wouldn't shun someone for telling a ribald story or two or having a couple of drinks with their friends. He undoubtedly had a good time at parties as we see from stories like the marriage at Cana. He seems to be telling us that great sinners have the capacity to become great saints because they are not afraid to live life wholeheartedly.|It's reassuring to think that Jesus' closest friends included people like Mary Magdalene and Matthew. If he liked them, he'd probably like most of us too, warts and all. We can take slightly guilty pleasure in thinking that Jesus might not enjoy the companionship of some of the people who claim to speak in his name. Some of them (fill in your own cast of characters) may remind us of those who criticized Him here for having dinner with Matthew and the tax collectors.|I've always found stories of conversion fascinating. My favorite authors include Thomas Merton but I like the mature Merton better than the young man who wrote the famous "Seven Story Mountain." The mature Merton of books like "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander" is a marvelously human figure with a wicked sense of humor as well as deep spirituality. This is no plaster saint - and I suspect Jesus probably doesn't much enjoy those plastic saints He finds hanging around heaven.|I think that one reason that Jesuit education has remained so vital for 500 years is that its founder knew sin before he knew virtue. Ignatius understood the fullness of life and God's love for people who have experienced it. We are asked to continually deepen our understanding of humanity and to develop our compassion for people with all their faults and foibles|Eventually we may even come to recognize our own continuing need for conversion - but not at the loss of our full humanity.|This passage makes me smile because I picture Jesus horrifying people that I wouldn't like very much by reaching out to people like most of us - sinners with a hidden potential to become saints.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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