There are pitfalls and traps within the spiritual life. One of these is spiritual pride, where the individual senses that they are more important than others, more worthy of the love of God, better gifted and equipped to be followers of Jesus. We monks can be especially at risk, as we live a separate life; we wear a habit to mark us out from others, we live in an entirely different way to most of the population. We can begin to see ourselves as the spiritual gatekeepers, as the Chosen Ones. It can happen in the monastery as much as in parish life. And it is a scourge on the spiritual life.
Jesus associated with sinners. He didn’t only go to them and instruct them: he spent time with them, socialised with them. He enjoyed their company. At the time especially, thus would have been nothing short of extraordinary.
Most importantly, we, all of us, are sinners. The sinners are never ‘the others’. We are in the number of those who offend God, who must pray for his mercy and forgiveness.
We mostly have a choice about who we spend our time with. We usually choose friends and, if we don’t, the friendship often won’t last if it isn’t a suitable one. Our friends tell us much about who we are, not only in terms of our humour and our social interests but our station in life, our class background, our work, our family and our greater life aspirations.
By spending time with sinners, Jesus was selfless. It showed that he did not care about what others thought of him. Letting a known prostitute bathe his feet with oil would have been scandalous. Indeed, what these interactions showed was that Jesus loved everyone, and that our human judgement of others is simply not applicable to the far-reaching love of God.
And so, we must go with great caution whenever we mark out a particular class or denomination, or when we look down our noses at other religions and people’s views.
Jesus, in today’s Gospel, was demonstrating that it is love that binds, not convention, that it is humility that will conquer the arrogance of humankind, and that selflessness is the key into his presence.
(Shorter form of the Gospel)
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit
A reading from the Gospel according to Luke 15:1-10
Glory to you, O Lord
The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:
‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends, and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” he would say “I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.
‘Or again, what woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it? And then, when she had found it, call together her friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” she would say “I have found the drachma I lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.’
The Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ