Saturday, 29 February 2020 : Saturday after Ash Wednesday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are called by God to leave behind our past lives of sin, of disobedience against God, of rebelliousness and waywardness in life, of all sorts of temptations and things that have separated us from the fullness of God’s love among other things. We are called to embrace instead the fullness of God’s love and mercy as we continue to progress through this blessed season and time of Lent.

The Lord has given us this wonderful opportunity through His Church in the institution of the time of Lent to precede the glorious season of Easter as a reminder that all of us are sinners and are in need of purification and change in our way of life. God will guide us in this journey of reconciliation and forgiveness, if we allow Him to guide our path and open our hearts and minds to welcome Him into our midst. On the other hand, if we are stubborn and refuse to change or be open to God, then we will not have any progress in this regard.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us now take a closer look at what we have just heard in our Gospel passage today. In that occasion, the Lord Jesus called a tax collector named Levi to follow Him, and Levi readily obeyed, leaving everything behind, his work and all, and followed Jesus. Then, before he was to proceed, Levi’s fellow tax collectors had a dinner with the Lord, which was frowned upon by the Pharisees who considered the tax collectors as traitors and sinners.

Tax collectors had always been reviled and hated during the time of Jesus because not only that they were the ones who collected the much hated taxes that saw people’s incomes being diminished due to the tax for the state, but even more so because at that time the Roman Empire reigned supreme in the Mediterranean region and including over Judea, Galilee and all the lands of the Israelites, those taxes were levied by the Romans and the tax collectors were seen as traitors to the nation and as collaborators of the Romans.

To that extent, the tax collectors faced not just intense hatred and dislike but also plenty of prejudice and bias against them. They were seen as dirty, unworthy, wicked, corrupt and evil and were generally shunned by the rest of the society. And this is precisely the sentiment made popular and spread by the Pharisees, who saw themselves as the antithesis of those tax collectors, being pious, good and obedient to the Law, as role models for the people and worthy inheritors of God’s promise.

The Pharisees looked down on the tax collectors and they severely criticised the Lord for His willingness to eat in the house of the tax collector and with those tax collectors no less. But they forgot a very important fact, that just like the tax collectors, they themselves were sinners, but unlike the tax collectors who were willing to listen to the Lord Jesus and accepted His truth, the Pharisees instead hardened their hearts and minds and refused to believe in Jesus.

In what the Lord Jesus then spoke before all of them, that He came into this world seeking those who are sick and troubled, as sins are truly the sickness of our deepest beings, corruptions upon our souls, thus, comparing the attitudes of the tax collectors and the Pharisees, we can easily see which of the two would in the end reap the benefit and wonders of God’s mercy and love. The tax collectors though sinners, they wanted to be healed by God and opened themselves to God’s mercy. And one of their own number, Levi, later to be known as Matthew, became a great saint, one of the Lord’s own Twelve Apostles and one of the Four Evangelists.

Meanwhile, the Pharisees, though also sinners, they did not see the depth of their sins and refused the healing that God has offered them. They kept themselves in their pride and refused to allow God’s healing to work in them. Nonetheless, the Lord continued to be patient with them, and we can see how He even forgave them all at the moment of His ultimate suffering on the Cross, asking His heavenly Father to forgive them their sins.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what can we learn from all these? It is the fact that all of us are sinners who have been privileged to have such a loving, caring, compassionate and merciful God, willing to embrace us and to heal us from our afflictions of sin. And we are sinners who have been called to a new existence with God, to embrace a new life filled with God’s grace and free from the corruption of sin. God despises our sins, but not us sinners, and therefore, we should make use of this opportunity especially during this season of Lent, we should draw ourselves closer to God.

May the Lord continue to be with us and watch over us as we journey through life and through this penitential season of Lent. May the Lord bless us and our many good endeavours of faith, and may He strengthen our faith and help us to love Him more and more with each passing moment. Amen.

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