Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)
The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes. (R./)
The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just. (R./)
May the spoken words of my mouth,
the thoughts of my heart,
win favour in your sight,
O Lord, my rescuer, my rock. (R./)
Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
In selecting a tax-collector, Jesus calls the least likely person to follow him. As a tax collector under the hire of the Roman occupation force, Levi was not permitted to enter a synagogue nor to go up to the temple. He was excommunicated from social contact with faithful, law-abiding Jews. It is not that God chooses riff-raff for religious leadership, but that He whose word penetrates the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, "judges the thoughts of the heart", recognizes potential in people whom others too quickly discard. There may be many whose growth we have stunted by failing to second their ideas or show trust in their ability. Other people may have seen in Levi/Matthew only the tax-man the non-observant, half-pagan Jew, serving the foreign oppressors, but Jesus recognized someone with a compassionate heart, hopeful towards others, in fact, the very dispositions attributed to God himself as He led the Israelites out of Egypt and prepared for the covenant on Mount Sinai.
When thinking about our hopes for effective leadership in the church, the most basic quality, surely, is a strong desire for sharing faith and love. Leaders ought to recognize and encourage the good qualities in others. Jesus not only calls Matthew but also accepts Matthew's invitation to dine in his home with all his friends and fellow tax collectors. The training period is underway, friendship is being deepened, relationship being established. As pope Francis memorably said, this would be a pastor in touch with ordinary people "a shepherd with the smell of the sheep on him." Like our High Priest Jesus who shared the very depths of our human experience, the good church pastor will understand the range of emotions and even temptations experienced by people today. The Scriptures combine a pure insight into ideals and a compassionate view of human nature, two essential qualities for religious leadership.
The devout scribes were shocked by the company Jesus kept. They asked his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Someone like Jesus, a teacher of religion, was expected to keep better company than that; he should move only in devout circles. However, Jesus clearly did not restrict his company to those who were seen to have measured up in some way. He seemed to mix happily among people who were considered sinners, just as doctors will associate with sick people, at least during their working hours.
This story reminds us that Christ is happy to be in our company, even if we have fallen short of what is expected of us, even when we are far from being all that we can become. Our failings and weaknesses do not drive the Lord away from us. Rather his presence to us in our failings and weaknesses lifts us up. We always come before God in our brokenness and he never drives us away. His table is always set for us and there is always a place for us there, regardless of where we are at in life.