by Fr. Karl Dietze
And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17
Table fellowship was of great importance in the ancient world. Who you ate with spoke volumes about who you were. The righteous would only share a meal with those who were righteous. So when Jesus ate with the unworthy and unrighteous, the religious leaders were both perplexed and disapproving. So they asked Jesus’ disciples what He was doing. Why was He associating with them? What they didn’t understand was that they, too, were part of them: unworthy and unrighteous.
Isn’t that part of what being “religious” does to us? It blinds our eyes to the reality of who we truly are and what we really need. Religiousness leads us to believe that we are righteous in our own strength. Religiousness leads us to believe that we are acceptable to God, or at least more acceptable than them.
We can spend a great deal of time and energy trying to convince those around us that we have it all put together in life, that we are successful human beings – even in spiritual things. We work hard making sure that what people see of our lives looks good and respectable. We may even work so hard at it that we begin to believe it, too. But no matter how hard we work at it, we will never be able to cover up what is really going on inside us, in our hearts.
Those who believe that they are righteous in their own strength, that they are truly acceptable to God to the core of their being, are unable to hear Jesus’ call. Jesus came to call sinners, to call those who are willing to admit that their hearts are sick with sin, and that when you strip away the external acts, they need help. Only those who recognize they are sick are willing to come to Jesus to be healed.
The season of Lent invites us to examine our sin-sick hearts and come to Jesus for healing. It is not a season to become more “religious” by taking on practices that only make us feel more self-righteous. Instead, it is a season to take on practices that show us just how much we need Jesus to make us whole.
The liturgy of Ash Wednesday is a powerful call to us sinners. As the service begins, we are invited to a season of repentance and self-examination which begins with the imposition of ashes, which reminds us that we are all mortal and will one day stand before Jesus to give an account for our lives. That isn’t meant to cause fear, but it is a reminder that we cannot put off until tomorrow the readiness that we are called to today. With the Litany of Penitence, then, we begin the examination of our hearts.
The service ends, though, with the meal of Holy Communion. Even as we acknowledge our sinfulness, Jesus once again invites us to the table, to not only dine with Him, but to feast upon His healing and saving grace in the sacrament. And so as we come to the table, we pray we “do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in you abundant and great mercies…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood…”
Fr. Karl ministers at Trinity Anglican Church