As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)
The essential premise for all 12-Step programs is enshrined in the one sentence introduction: “I am an alcoholic.” These programs recognize that things will not change, people will not grow, until they can recognize that they have a problem. Nothing is going to become better as long as people deny that there is a sickness, as long as they refuse to ask for help.
This is a profound insight into the human condition, and it is connected directly to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. There Jesus says, “I have come not to save the righteous, but sinners”. Jesus is asserting that he has come to save those who are in need, those who are sinful. Therefore, if we want to have a relationship with him, we must own our need, we must admit our sinfulness.
So, let’s try this sentence on for size: “My name is Steve, and I am a sinner.” Do you find that there is a part of you that is arguing against this statement? Is there a piece of you that insists, “That sentence really doesn’t apply to me?”
In one sense, you are correct. You may not be a horrendous sinner or someone who has ruined someone else’s reputation. But in another sense, are you saying that you have no shortcomings, that you have no needs which should be addressed? “Oh,” you say, “if that’s what you mean, of course. There is always room to grow.” That is exactly what I mean. So here is my question: If we admit that there is room to grow, if we admit that we need to change, why do we resist calling ourselves sinners?
I think we all believe we can change things ourselves. I think we recognize that there are places in our life where we need to grow, but we convince ourselves that they are not important enough to warrant bothering God with them. Yes, we need to be a bit more patient, or less judgmental, or more generous. Yes, these are areas where we should grow, but they are really not important enough to bother God with them. We convince ourselves that we can take care of these things ourselves.
But the issue is that is denial. It is denying that we have a problem, denying that that problem is important enough to move us to change. How long are we going to wait until we deal with patience? Until we find the courage to say “no”?
It might seem polite that we decide not to bother God with our needs. But it is not polite at all. It is God’s job to meet our needs. God is our savior, and if we insist on saving ourselves, we turn our relationship with God upside down and distort our roles within it. If we think that we can solve our own needs ourselves, it is impossible to have an honest relationship with God. God is the giver; we are receivers. God is the healer; we are the ones in need. God is the one who saves; we are the sinners.
God depends upon our cooperation, our openness, our willingness to exert some effort. But what sense does it make to have an all-powerful and loving God if we do not turn to God in our time of need? It makes no sense at all unless we want to delude ourselves, unless we want to deny that we need to ask for help.
We are invited to move out of denial and to face the truth, to recognize that there is no need so small that it is inappropriate to bring it to God.
Let us leave our pride and recognize our need to grow. If you need to be patient, ask for God’s help. If you need to stop smoking, ask for God’s help. If you need the courage to say no, ask for God’s help. You know what your needs are. Admitting you need help is not a failure. It is the essential step toward a richer life. We are people who need to change. The good news is that Jesus came to save sinners like us.
Prayer of The Day
Lord Jesus, our Savior, let us now come to you: Our hearts are cold; Lord, warm them with your selfless love. Our hearts are sinful; cleanse them with your precious blood. Our hearts are weak; strengthen them with your joyous Spirit. Our hearts are empty; fill them with your divine presence. (Prayer of Augustine, 354-430)
We need to learn that our faith is not about our sacrifice, but about God’s love and mercy. A mercy that is prior to any action on our part. A mercy that is deep and lasting. And when we learn that, then we can live each day in thankfulness and hope And God’s mercy is not a single action. It is the air we breathe. It is the sea in which we swim. When we realize that, then we’ll be able to say without any doubt, “God’s love is the foundation of my faith. God’s mercy is the reason I am a believer.”