Many of the “religious” folks at the time of Jesus were scandalized that he would associate with people who were viewed as unholy or undesirable. Mark’s Gospel tells us that, “While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus heard this and said to them, ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.’” (NAB, MK 2”15-17) The religious leaders failed to see their own sinfulness and so also did not recognize the need for a savior; their judgmental view of the world blinded them from the truth.
When we are able to recognize ourselves as sinners, grace opens our eyes to see that we are the sick to whom the Son of God came to save. Jesus wants to sit and eat with us. He calls us to the Lamb’s Supper as he calls us to conversion, and we need not be afraid or embarrassed. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely healing.” (HEB 4:14-16) God is calling us today, just as he called Matthew and all of his disciples; “Come, follow me.” Jesus calls us to conversion, to recognize that we are in need of healing because of our sins, and then to receive his grace, that grace we need to change our lives and live in constant pursuit of holiness. Jesus calls us to himself. Let us answer that call.
Jesus, I hear your call. I know that I am a sinner. I know that I need the healing that only comes from you. Forgive me. Give me the wisdom to see my sins and defects, the heart to be truly sorry, the courage to confess all that I’ve done, the heart to receive your love, mercy, and grace, and the determination and strength to live in that same grace, according to your Law and Covenant of Love. Amen.
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Jesus frequently used healings and miracles to support and emphasize his teaching of a New Law and a New Covenant. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, we hear early on of the healing of a leper. Lepers were ostracized from the community and were not even allowed to participate in worship; they were absolute outcasts from family and society in a truly profound way. So, being healed of leprosy meant being reunited with family, reunited with friends, and reunited with the People of God, being able to properly worship with the community in the Temple and synagogues.
“A leper came to [Jesus] and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, ‘I will do it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.” (NAB, MK 1:40-42) We are all in need of cleansing, and our faith reminds us that we can turn to our most merciful and forgiving Savior at any time, and he’s there, waiting for us, ready to give us the gift of renewal and reconciliation. The depth of our sins is insignificant in the presence of the power of God’s grace; his infinite love for us provides immediate rescue when we call upon him in faith.
When is the last time you knelt down and begged Jesus to make you clean? It takes humility and faith to admit our sins and confess them, and it takes the strength and courage that come only from God’s grace to keep us from sin in pursuit of holiness and sanctity. We are each called to be a saint; we are called to unity with our Lord in a perfection that can only be accomplished because of the Sacrifice and Passion of God’s Only Begotten Son. We are made perfect through his perfection, and we are made holy through his sanctifying life.
Lord, Jesus, “if you wish, you can make me clean.” Open my mind and reveal to me my sins, that I may honestly and openly confess them with a most contrite heart. I desire nothing less than you, and you desire nothing less than my salvation. Give me a truly sorrowful heart for all of my offenses, and give me your grace, so that I may change my life and pursue the life of holiness to which I am called. Amen.
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During these weeks of waiting and anticipation to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, we are reminded of the need to prepare ourselves to spiritually receive our Lord. In St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that familiar story of John the Baptist calling the people of his time to a baptism of forgiveness and repentance. He was fulfilling the words of the great prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…. All flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (NAB, LK 3:4, 6)
But how do we prepare to receive the salvation being offered to us? Preparing for the Lord, making straight the crooked paths and smoothing out the rough ways in our lives is all about conversion. It means daily examining ourselves, looking deep inside our souls, finding those areas where we fail or where we can do better, and then changing how we live, with the help of God’s grace. Conversion is a daily process where we work to conform ourselves to Christ. A simple reflection, perhaps in the middle of the day and just before sleep, can change our lives dramatically. After intentionally bringing your mind into the presence of God, reflect on the day by giving thanks for your blessings, and then asking yourself: When did I experience God or feel drawn to him today? When did I miss these opportunities, and why? How did I violate God’s Law of Love? (Express true contrition and a desire to change.) How do I allow Jesus to be more fully present in my life? There are many forms of a Daily Examen, and practicing it is perhaps one of the most certain methods for staying prepared for our Lord.
Father, as I experience this time of waiting to celebrate the birth of your Son, Jesus, transform my heart so that it may be clean and clear of anything that prevents me from receiving you. Give me your grace and the persistence and courage to honestly reflect on my life, so as to rid myself of all that is contrary to your love. As I seek to do your will, may I become more conformed to Christ, for your greater glory. Amen.
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