Jesus was called “A friend of sinners.” Am I? For that matter, are you? Just look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:18-19 that say “For John (the Baptist) came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Criticism and name calling seem to flow pretty easily off the tongues of people, especially when someone departs from conventional behavior or the cultural “norms.” In this respect, things haven’t changed too much in 2000 years, have they? Was Jesus wrong?
The religious critics of Jesus day (and perhaps ours as well) did not like the appearance of a holy and upright man rubbing shoulders with the “great unwashed.” Remember when Jesus went to Matthew’s house for dinner and dined with “many tax collectors and sinners?” (Mt.9:10) The Pharisees of that day were in an uproar! When Jesus heard about it, he said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The Pharisees, the religionists who knew better, should have responded differently and been setting an example which drew sinners into relationship with God. Time and again, they missed the mark and defaulted in their calling.
Jesus life and ministry were marked by outward criticism as he performed God’s will. His mission was “to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) That mission was handed over to us(2 Cor. 5:18 ) where we are given the same ministry of reconciliation that Jesus came for. Is this a messy ministry and one vulnerable to scorn from both inside and outside the ranks of people of faith? You bet it is! But Jesus repeatedly served under the microscope of the religious . . . like when he was anointed by a sinful woman in Luke 7; when in John 8:11he ministered to the woman at the well, not condemning her but instructing her to cease her sinful life pattern; when he confronted the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3), a capital offense, and reminded the bloodthirsty accusers that there was sin in their resume as well. And what of the account in Matthew 8:3 where Jesus physically touched an“untouchable” leper to cleanse him?
It’s a bit of a sad commentary on “religion” and those who practice it, but Jesus was continually rolling up his sleeves to come closer to those society rejected and vilified so that they may experience first-hand the love and character of God – – and yet he was rejected for it. Jesus’ example is truly remarkable and it is an example for us. He invited the disenfranchised, the rejected and yes, the sinful to draw close to him. How better for them to know the real Jesus than to be close enough to hear his messages of truth and to experience his grace. Notice clearly that Jesus never abandoned truth as he ministered among those who were off the grid in sin. Notice also that he did not blow them away. Perhaps not all, but many experienced life change as a result of Jesus’ personal engagement.
While we do not have the power to “re-clothe” people spiritually and transform their lives, we do have the opportunity to be used by God in partnership as the Holy Spirit ministers to them making life change possible. I can’t speak for Jesus as to what his “comfort level” was like when he mixed with those who were levels apart on some hypothetical “holiness scale.” I kind of think his focus on mission eclipsed his need for comfort. I want to be more like that. I don’t want Jesus to see “Pharisee” in me as I consider shying away from engagement with people whose brokenness and sin are open to view or even hidden. While what sin you and I may be working on which is under the radar from public view, it is no less important to Jesus and he still draws near to love, to instruct, to heal and deliver. When you take your seat in church this week, be assured that though the world may be unaware, the person sitting by you still struggles with sin in some way and Jesus cares about it. Think About It.