Tuesday, June 03, 2008

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners

One of the problems with discussion in modern society - so people say - is that no one has time for developed and reasoned argument. It is all shouting and slogans and what they call “sound bites”, snippets of phrases which are supposed to convince. Life is more complicated than that, we protest, and complicated issues cannot be simply dealt with in simple catchy phrases.

And indeed this is true. People prefer to rant than to reason. We want to win the argument, rather than explore the issues. It is much for fun to speak out than it is to listen. Even the word ‘argument’ for most people means not a reasoned discussion, but a shouting match.

Yet on the other hand, the short phrases, the mottos and slogans do often speak of something much deeper and well founded in reason and truth. Like the tip of an iceberg, or the grin of the Cheshire Cat, the promise far more than their few words.

And Jesus was the Master of the sound-bite. “He who has ears, let him hear” he said. “It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle …” he said. “The strain the gnat and swallow the camel,” he said. “Leave the dead to bury the dead”, “Turn the other cheek”, “Take the plank out of your own eye …”, “You are the salt of the earth” … we could go on and one.

And in today’s Gospel there are three more:
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I came not to call the virtuous, but sinners.

Three sayings, one message. A few words, yet a profound teaching. And it is a pointed one.
Christ came to call sinners. Not the virtuous - they already have their reward, as he said on another occasion. If we are sure of our own righteousness, our own goodness, then we have no need of Christ. If we are convinced that we have done nothing wrong, that it is always someone else’s fault, that we have no need to go to confession, then faith in Him is entirely unnecessary. If were unable to recognise any need for forgiveness, then we have nothing to be saved from, and nothing to be saved for.
This is the most true atheism - not a lack of understanding, or an inability to be convinced of God’s existence - but a self-assurance, indeed arrogance, that we have no need of God’s love.

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