Sunday, June 08, 2008

On sinners and tax collectors

In today's gospel reading, the high ranking religious muckety-mucks of Jesus' day wonder aloud how much cred Jesus can have as a holy man, given that he is seen eating with "sinners and tax-collectors".

That always makes me smile...not for any deep theological reasons, but because of the childhood memory it evokes.

The very first definition I "fast mapped" for tax collector was "one who mooches a bite of your dessert". I learned this because those were the words my father routinely uttered while engaging in that practice. "Tax collector!"

Mind you, I had no idea what taxes actually were back then. I hadn't yet heard the expression about "death and taxes" being inevitable. I did know that "Tax collector!" was inevitable. And mostly harmless, as far as I could tell.

That is, until I learned that tax collectors were singled out as unsavories in the bible. "Sure, it's a little annoying," I (probably) thought, "but it can't be that bad!"

The actual details of this story are lost to time and no doubt distorted through retelling, so I can't say with certainty how this misunderstanding was actually resolved. My sense is that I realized that there must be other kinds of tax collectors, and I made a mental note to ask my father about it at the next available opportunity.

In any event, now you know why today, when I heard, "And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples," I mused to myself, "I hope someone thought to make extra dessert!"