I don’t usually follow Fr Martin because much better voices than mine–like Ross Douthat’s, Joseph Sciambra and Daniel Mattson’s are engaging with him effectively , but my critique of one of Fr Martin’s tweets got me scrolling through some of his other comments, and I was bewildered by the way he twists the plain meaning of Scripture and church teaching.

Note this tweet from Saturday:

Gospel: Jesus is critiqued for dining with “tax collectors and sinners.” New Testament scholars Daniel Harrington and John Donahue note that except for the case of Matthew/Levi: “There is no indication that the toll collectors abandoned their profession after contact with Jesus.”

Once again, let’s untangle the multiple levels of either incompetent ignorance or deliberate deceit.

Firstly, let’s deal with the facts. Why should the tax collectors “abandon their profession after contact with Jesus”? Being a tax collector in Jesus’ time was not a crime. The reason the tax collectors were despised was not primarily  because they were tax collectors, but because they were bad tax collectors.

They were notorious for cheating people, and getting rich by robbing the poor.

The Romans gave the tax collectors a certain quota they had to collect. Anything above that they could charge as their take and they had a couple of Roman soldiers to enforce the amount they wanted. Their crime was not being tax collectors, but thug-enforced thievery.

That tax collecting in and of itself was not considered sinful is backed up by John the Baptist meeting some tax collectors in Luke 3.

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

So John didn’t tell them they had to leave their profession, and Jesus would have agreed.

How is it that Fr Martin and two “Bible Scholars” missed that?

We can assume Matthew-Levi left his profession to follow Jesus, but was he the only tax collector who met Jesus and was reformed as Fr Martin said? No. Zacchaeus –the tax collector who climbed a tree was also reformed.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything,I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus then praised him and held him up as an example, but he did not say he should stop being a tax collector. Zacchaeus may have continued as a tax collector, but now he was doing so not only fairly, but with amazing generosity to the poor.

How is it that Fr Martin and two “Bible Scholars” missed that? I learned it in Sunday School when I was about ten years old.

That the tax collector was expected to repent of his cheating and theft was clear from Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee.

 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

So Fr Martin misses the point completely. It was not a sin to be a tax collector, but it was a sin to cheat and rob the poor, and this is where the change was expected to happen–as it did with the penitent tax collector in the parable and Zacchaeus.

But the problem with Fr Martin’s tweet is not simply one of poor Biblical understanding and exegesis.

Why did he write a tweet suggesting that the tax collectors didn’t turn from their sinful ways? What was the point of that tweet? It could only be that Fr Martin is implying that Jesus not only ate and drank with tax collectors, but he also did not expect them to change their ways.

I cannot see any other possible reason for such a tweet.

Is it possible that a Catholic priest can twist Scripture in such a way? When Jesus meets the adulterous woman he forgives her but says, “Go and sin no more.” Can any remark be clearer?

I am happy to be corrected if I have got it wrong, but given Fr Martin’s tireless advocacy for the LGBTQ agenda we must assume he is implying that LGBTQ people can be Jesus’ friends but don’t have to worry about changing their ways.

As I have done before, I would like to move this analysis away from the LGBTQ issue and ask whether the idea that a person can be Jesus’ friend without having to turn away from his sin should be applied to every other category of sin.

Can those who pollute the climate be Jesus’ friend and still churn out their pollution? Can those who want to ship illegal immigrants be Jesus’ friend and still load up the planes and busses to deport people? Is it okay for racists, bigots and haters to go on hating and still be Jesus’ friends? Can Vatican judges keep looking at pederastic porn and still be Jesus’ friend?

The fact is, all of us need to turn away from our sin if we wish to follow Christ.

If Fr Martin is implying that gay people can be friends of Jesus, but do not need to turn away from their sin, the only other interpretation we can put on the tweet is that Fr Martin does not consider sexual intercourse between two men to be sinful.

If Fr Martin is talking cryptically about gay people there is one other possible application of the tweet: that Fr . Martin thinks people with same sex attraction can be Jesus’ friend but do not have to try hard to stop having same sex attraction. In other words, you can be a follower of Jesus and still experience homosexual desire while remaining celibate. He would be correct about that. A gay Catholic is called to celibacy, but it is not necessary for him or her to eliminate or suppress their same sex attraction.

But we know that is not Fr Martin’s meaning otherwise he would support the Courage and EnCourage apostolates rather than the gay sex affirming New Ways Ministry.

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