In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus seeks friendship with a tax collector and then goes so far as to make this man his disciple, that is a public representative of Jesus himself.
The tax collector is so overjoyed by his friendship with the Lord and his new mission in life that he hosts an extravagant party, inviting his own friends to meet the Lord Jesus and share in his joy.
This is viewed with curiosity and contempt the Pharisees and scribes.
Tax collectors during the time of Christ’s revelation were not merely civil servants, but were considered to be collaborators with the foreign powers that ruled Israel. Remember, during the time of Christ, the Israelites were subjects of the Roman emperor, and as subjects, they were taxed. Many Israelites resented this taxation as much as the resented that their nation was ruled by Caesar. The Pharisees and scribes are expressing this resentment and the anger and contempt such resentment engenders. Christ, it seems to them, is currying favor with the enemies of the Israelites, when he should, if he was a true Israelite, shun tax collectors and refuse to associate with them.
Christ understands the situation differently.
Instead of shunning, Christ offers friendship, and this offer of friendship accomplishes what shunning the man never could- the man meets the Lord Jesus and discovers and receives from him a new way of life. Whereas the approach of the Pharisees and scribes left the tax collector to languish in his sins, Christ’s approach gives him the possibility of a second chance at life. A man imprisoned by a worldly system that dominates him and makes him a enemy of God, is set free to become God’s friend.
It is friendship with God in Christ that changes lives, and transforms those who are enemies of God into servants of God.
This is precisely the kind of transformation Christ can accomplish for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this Sacrament, we present ourselves as sinners, as we all are, but what we receive from him is not a cold rebuke but the invitation to become again a friend of the Lord Jesus, and in this offer of grace, we receive the gift of another chance.
During the season of Lent, the Church asks that we prepare ourselves for the great events of Holy Week, events that are really an encounter with the Lord Jesus, by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not a spiritual option for a pious few, but an ordinary practice of the Church’s way of life. All of us have sinned, either by what we have done or what we have failed to do, and all of us are soul sick and in need of the care of Christ, the Good Physician.
Christ’s care is offered to us in the Church, which really is, whether we understand it as such or not, what Pope Francis describes as a “field hospital” for the world. The Church is supposed to be a refuge and place of healing and hope for those who are wounded by sin, and it is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Christ acts through his priests to heal our sin-sick souls.
As I said, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not meant simply to be something extraordinary, but it is intended by Christ to be the ordinary practice of a disciple. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an integral practice of the Church’s way of life. During Lent we should not only call the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to mind, we should participate in it- we should do it. Why languish in feverish soul-sickness, when Christ the Good Physician is ready and willing to offer you healing and hope?