Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Now both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:1-2).
So I'm reading Luke's gospel, and I get as far as this passage. And my mind starts to wander.
Why did Jesus attract so many people to Himself -- harlots and thieves, tax collectors and womanizers, blasphemers and liars, murderers and adulterers? I knew the answer as soon as I thought of the question. They came to Him for the same reason I came.
They knew He would accept them. Just as they were.
And His acceptance would change them.
I remember how it was for me in October 1972. It happened on the Jewish Day of Atonement. We call it, Yom Kippur. Remorse for my sins weighed heavy across my heart -- sins I had, to that point, successfully ignored. But in that moment, alone in my room, they flooded across my mind: my baby that I sent to die in the abortion clinic, the young women I'd used, the drugs I abused, the flares of temper that sometimes frightened even me, my arrogant pride, my thefts, my deceptions . . . .
I knew I needed to change. And I knew -- Oh! how I knew -- I needed forgiveness.
Long before I understood the Biblical doctrine of forgiveness; Long before I knew Jesus died for my sins; And long before I had even heard of the Sacrament of Penance, I looked toward heaven that day in October and asked God to forgive me. And to help me.
I could only hope He would hear my prayer.
And, of course, He did. Two months later, He showed me Jesus. And like the sinners St. Luke tells us about in the passage I'd just read, I came to Him, knowing He would not reject me.
And that He would change me.