Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners.” (Luke 5:30-32 CEV)
Not the righteous, but sinners…can it be that Jesus is really interested in sinners? Would He really rather hang out with them than with the righteous?
Perhaps the answer lies in the “Father’s business.” What is the Father doing? What is His work? If the Father is in the process of redeeming and reconciling the world to Himself, His will dictates with whom Jesus will spend time.
It is instructive to note that in this story, also found in Matthew chapter 9 as well as Mark chapter 2, the righteous or at least self-righteous come complaining to Jesus about the people with whom He is spending His time. The text indicates their tone was one of grumbling. It almost seems that there is a bit of jealousy among them. I find this very interesting because they seem bound and determined to try and discredit Jesus, yet they are offended that He is choosing to spend time with someone other than themselves.
What is up with this kind of thinking? It could be that these people wanted to spend time with Jesus, but only on their terms? Wherever He was the self-righteous always managed to show up, yet they always seemed upset and disappointed with Him.
One could argue that they hung around Him because He was stealing their influence and their supporters and they wanted to minimize the damage, but then they didn’t count the tax collectors and sinners as their followers anyway. It strikes me as odd that they would object to Jesus hanging out with a crowd they rejected. It wasn’t like He was cutting into their support with tax collectors and sinners. They had already rejected this crowd.
Perhaps, they simply didn’t want Jesus to have any followers. That may explain some of their angst, but it really does appear that they were actually offended when Jesus actually sat down with these folks. It bothered them that Jesus was doing more than just striding quickly through the downtown. It bothered them that He was actually interacting with the street people and profligates. It bothered them that that He wasn’t doing what they thought a religious leader should be doing.
But what could have offended them to the extent they spoke with the tone of one who is wounded and somewhat disenchanted? Could it be that they believed, perhaps hoped, He was who He said He was? Could it be that they wanted to be in on the action, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to let down their guard? Could it be that they were hoping Jesus would somehow affirm them?
They seemed bent on disproving Jesus, but why? They represented a whole system, but He was just one person. They had an entire culture on their side. Why was He such a threat to them? I believe in answering some of these questions, we might be able to better understand our motivations in dealing with the culture around us.
In nearly all organized religion, there is a political element present. You gain status and authority by virtue of paying your dues to the system and investing some skin in the game. Influence comes through following the right channels whether spoke or unspoken.
To a certain extent each religion has “touchables” and “untouchables.” You don’t particularly gain friends or influence in a religious system by going against the code. Try as we like to be objective, there always seems to be some group or practice that is not acceptable within our constructs of what pleases God.
For the ultra-conservative, anything that pushes the envelope of orthodoxy is unwelcome and suspect. For the more progressive, people or practices that remind of tradition or law are unwelcome or suspect. It seems that we have a predisposition to religion whether that religion is newly formed or carried over from ages past. We simply have a hard time functioning without developing an acceptable pattern of worship and behavior according to our perspective. But our perspective often proves to be a bit faulty and as a result, we have a hard time living as objective Christ followers.
Perhaps it is because we have a certain bitterness or fear towards people that we think don’t “get” our perspective or understanding of the Gospel. I am amazed at how many new Christians today revel more in being saved from “religion” than in being saved from sin. Many glory more in a new way of “church,” than in a new life. For them anyone still adhering to the traditional systems of worship is in bondage and they can tend to be cautious and even resentful towards them.
On the flip side, those from the traditional religious side of things have their own template through which they view the newer expressions of worship and freedom of lifestyle. They tend to view those with new or unorthodox expressions of worship as being crude and irreverent or as being bound in their own selfishness, arrogance or self-will.
Like the religious leaders of Jesus day, we may find it hard to envision Jesus sitting down with the “other” group and actually eating and fellowshipping with them. We all like to believe that Jesus has a softer spot in His heart for us than for the “other guys.” We all want to have the edge when it comes to God’s favor and grace. In short, we have a desire to be vindicated in our pursuit of God. In our arrogance we can be tempted to mock the simple mindedness or naiveté of those who seem “bound” by one thing or another.
Romans chapter 14 and verse 10 asks two interesting questions followed by a profound truth, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” These questions are very pertinent to the discussion here. For the more orthodox, the tendency is to pass judgment and condemnation on those who don’t hold the traditions. Whereas, for those operating under a new system of church, free from the constraints of tradition, the temptation is to show contempt for those still adhering to traditional systems.
The quoted passage ends with a statement that has a great leveling affect for any who would try and claim moral high ground in religious significance, “…we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
So why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Why does Jesus receive a visit from Nicodemus (John 3)? Why does Jesus eat in the house of Simon (Luke 7:36-50)? Why does Jesus converse with the religious leaders in the temple? And how is it that He seems to disrespect His earthly relatives in Luke 8:19-21? It is Because He is about His Father’s business.
I believe in stating, “I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners,” Jesus wasn’t pushing either group aside. Instead, He spoke a word that leveled the playing field. He wasn’t rejecting “Law” abiding citizens, but He was inviting them to admit their sinfulness. He wasn’t choosing a particular set of behavior as special, but rather inviting all to come self-righteous and “sinner” alike.
I take comfort in the fact that all had equal access to Jesus, He ate with them all. He associated with them all. True He rebuked some and consoled others, but He LOVED THEM ALL. His Father’s business was to bring them to righteousness through the Life of His Son.
Being self-righteous was of no merit and being sinful was of no merit. But Jesus made it clear that if you knew you were a sinner, you were invited into His grace.
Jesus, in eating with sinners shared such a beautiful picture of equal access. “…Not the righteous, but sinners”—He invites sinners from both camps to fellowship in His righteousness.
Somehow the Apostle Paul got it right in communicating with Timothy when he wrote, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” For Paul, it appears that He didn’t break the world of prospective worshippers into two or more camps with one being closer to God. He started with a faithful saying which colored his interaction in sharing the Gospel. I wonder if I can say the same thing with equal clarity and charity.