(This is a reblog of one of my 2016 posts from http://www.acatholicmoment.org)
It’s a term celebrities and other notable names use whenever they experience an unprecedented level of fame. Over the years I have heard countless musicians, actors, politicians and even Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling use the same six words to describe that moment when they realize their career has taken some kind of turn and that people see them as something larger than life: It was like being a Beatle.
It’s a statement that, for the most part, needs no explanation to those who hear it. It’s the kind of analogy people simply “get.” Most everyone who has been plugged into pop culture over the past 50-plus years has seen the iconic images of the Fab Four arriving at the newly christened JFK Airport in February 1964. They watched as the band gave a startled wave to the assembled crowd. They saw the fans pressed along the tarmac hoping to catch a glimpse of the lads from Liverpool. They heard the screams, and cries of an adoring public and read the signs heralding the new British Invasion and they knew within an instant that this band was somehow different than every act that came before. It’s a sentence that encompasses the very essence of that seminal moment in history and conveys all of the feelings and emotions that come along with it. “It was like being a Beatle.” Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
I was a sophomore in high school before I ever really considered what the gospel writers meant when they said Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Naturally, I understood the “sinners” part (though I am sure I envisioned these people as being much more nefarious than myself) but it was the “tax collectors” part that I couldn’t follow. What was so bad about eating with the good people of H&R Block or the IRS? Weren’t they just work-a-day Joes like everyone else?
Not exactly, according to my religion teacher at the time. Evidently, back in the First Century, tax collectors were a pretty corrupt bunch. I’m not talking about creating a code so complicated few people can actually understand it, but a ruthless, insidious band of characters no one in their right mind would want to hang out with. She explained that when the gospel writers used the term “tax collectors and sinners” they were nodding to popular slang of the time and those who read it completely understood it. Like the Beatle analogy, it was the kind of sentence that said it all.
I often wonder how St. Luke would write his gospel if it were happening today? Would he qualify Jesus’ popularity by claiming He was bigger than the Beatles? Would he explain His influence on others by calling Him the John Lennon of ministry? (And before you ask, yes…I see what I did there.) With whom would Jesus have to have dinner with in order for it to be considered a public affront by most of the world? More importantly, what would be the take away message from this action? Would it be that Jesus is somehow different than anyone who came before him? Would it be that Jesus always represents the gold standard of behavior? Or would it be that Jesus came to heal everyone and no matter who you are there is a place at his table? Maybe we should focus less on how the infamous tax collectors and sinners earned their Beatle-like distinction and instead realize that if Jesus’ mercy extends to them, then perhaps we should pull up a chair and have a seat as well.