Eating with sinners

Last year’s Al Smith Dinner caused quite a stir from both sides of the debate which raged over whether or not Cardinal Dolan should dine with President Obama.  My position on the matter is moot as the event came and went and Obama was reelected.  One of the main defenses of Cardinal Dolan was that Jesus ate with sinners.

Outside of the Al Smith Dinner debate, this claim has been used a bazillion times, usually when a member of a religious order defends fraternizing with a public figure well-known for their attacks on the Catholic Church or Catholic teaching.

I would like to begin by saying that I’m not trying to call into question Cardinal Dolan’s decision or wisdom regarding the Al Smith dinner.  To his credit, Cardinal Dolan did admonish the sinners in his closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention.  That being said, the purpose of the following is to show that waving the banner of “Jesus did it” is not the only filter through which we should measure our decisions, especially when the fact is omitted that when Jesus ate with sinners, he admonished them and told them to repent.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
~Luke 5:29-32

Mark 2 and Matthew 9 also give accounts of Jesus eating with sinners.  While the verses do not go into detail how Jesus, the physician, heals the sinners, but it is understood that he does.  A physician does not visit the sick and give no remedy to what ails them.  In the same way, Jesus did not visit the sinners and withhold spiritual medicine.

Lately, I’ve been reading Sirach, written by JesusNo, not that Jesus!. There’s a great bit of wisdom in Sirach.  I recommend our Protestant separated brethren, as well as my fellow Catholics take a gander as well.

Bring not every man into your house, for many are the snares of the crafty one;  Though he seem like a bird confined in a cage, yet like a spy he will pick out the weak spots.  The talebearer turns good into evil; with a spark he sets many coals afire.  The evil man lies in wait for blood, and plots against your choicest possessions.  Avoid a wicked man, for he breeds only evil, lest you incur a lasting stain.  Lodge a stranger with you, and he will subvert your course, and make a stranger of you to your own household.

                        Sirach 11:29-34

Jesus Christ is God.  He was without sin, and thus could not fall prey to the trickery of the devil.  Everyone sins except Jesus Christ (and Mary).  We are all susceptible to corruption of souls.  What Jesus is telling us in Sirach is that we should be careful whom we choose as friends, whom we allow into our homes, religious houses, and educational institutions.

Oddly enough, often times when a person, group, organization brings someone to speak who is known for open public dissent, it is touted that the group is being “hospitable.”  It is not a matter of hospitality when the guest was invited, as the guest would not otherwise have come of their own volition if not for the invitation.  Hospitality is an issue wherein one seeking help is welcomed by the householder, not when the householder invites someone hostile to the faith that the householder professes.

What our Catholic dialogue has lacked for many years is clarification, distinguishing nuance, explaining fully the position.  (I’m sure I feel another future post being born of this.)  While Jesus did in fact dine with sinners, the nuance which is missing is the point that he admonished them in the process.  If we were to omit the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, from the explanation of the Eucharist, we could say that the Eucharist is bread and wine.  Well, sure it is…but don’t forget that whole transubstantiation thing.  It makes all the difference in the world.