Hosanna, our 16 month old daughter, had her first run in with a ‘stomach bug’ yesterday. The poor little girl was bewildered that we wouldn’t let her drink more milk, that she took two baths in one day, and that she kept getting put in new clothes. Conversely, I think she was pleasantly surprised by how much cuddle time and attention she got from Bess and me. Isn’t that how it is supposed to be when you are sick? Experience and today’s readings would seem to suggest, yes.
First, we hear Christ liken sinfulness to sickness in today’s Gospel. He defends the special attention he gives to the tax collectors and sinners the same way that Bess and I would defend how we treated Hosanna yesterday.
Second, we lavish care and concern on Hosanna because we know what it is like to be sick. With her 16 month vocabulary she can’t tell us exactly how she is feeling but we’ve been there and so we respond with greater compassion. In the book of Hebrews we are reminded that this is similar to our relationship with Jesus. It reads, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Christ’s special affection for tax collectors and sinners comes from this sympathy. I’m sure this sympathy was crafted all throughout Jesus’ human life but I imagine it is no mere coincidence that His ministry began with his trial in the desert. There he truly faced the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. That time prepared Him for His ministry with the tax collectors and sinner but also for the Pharisees.
We best not forget the Pharisees. They are similar to how my son (2 ¾ yrs) was feeling at the end of the day. We did special things with him, but the poor little guy watched us care for Hosanna with a special affection. It showed through little behaviors and then was captured when I was putting him to bed. I was trying to explain why Hosanna was getting special treatment. As I did I told him, “Mommy and Daddy love you.”
He said, “Why?”
I responded, “You’re our little Iggy-man.”
He then said, “No.”
“No, you’re not Iggy? Then who are you?”
“I Hosanna.” Then he laughed.
Joking or not, I think he captured that when we witness someone receiving a particular affection that we aren’t getting then something nags at us. I think that is what nagged at the Pharisees in today’s gospel.
Jesus’s sympathy for our weakness extends to the offended Pharisee. He is the all-holy God of the universe who has watched people time and again turn from his faithfulness. The Old Testament likened Israel’s infidelity in religion to that of infidelity in a marriage. However, it was that sympathy that I think lessened His patience with them. Here they were standing aghast at who he ate with because they were offended on His behalf. Instead of approaching the sick with concern they remained offended on God’s behalf, and thus show a misunderstanding of God.
As Jesus reveals God as Father and likens sinners and tax collectors to the sick, He makes it clear that God comes to us. No parent would neglect their child out of disgust for vomit. The Pharisees were right that God hated the sins like I hate throw-up. But they were wrong to think that He hated the sinners, as if I could love Hosanna less for being sick. Instead, He shows them a special affection that scandalizes and bewilders, but also pleasantly surprises those with eyes to see.