So often we as Christians get mad at one of two people. 1) sinners, 2) legalists. Actually, this is not very different than other people in society as well. We cringe and feel uncomfortable with sinners-people who are living a lifestyle that is more "dirty" than ours, and we hate people who look down their noses at us. Both need love, both need our patience. But I want to address this first group that we tend to hate (treat poorly).
Non-Christians and Christians- one thing we often do wrong when we investigate Jesus is to judge HIM by His beloved church (which is full of imperfect people). This would be like going into McDonald's and judging Ray Kroc by a couple of bad employees (and neglecting the good by the way). You can't do that. Judge Jesus based on what HE did, what HE claimed. But I digress...
Let's tune into Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?”
But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Mt 9:9–13). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
First, Matthew was a crook & was seen as a "sell-out" to his fellow countrymen. A disrespected guy. Jesus calls HIM to be a student of his! Why?
Matthew, clearly excited about God's love, grace, mercy, depth for him throws a big party & invites all of his buddies to meet this Jesus. I am not sure what all his friends were "in to" but one thing is for sure, they were not all too religious- they were called "sinners". Do you know any sinners? We do know that they were clearly those who "missed the mark" and didn't have life all figured out. We do know that Jesus hung around a few hookers, drunks, violent men, sell outs, hypocrites, arrogant, liars, and party animals. People who had real lives, who were trying to figure things out, who clearly had some issues that characterized them. By the way, His love for them is genuine, not some shallow charity case love. He cared for them. In fact, didn't he have a couple prostitutes that were often with him and his disciples? (don't read into that too much)
The religious leaders were offended! "Why is your teacher eating with such scum?" Literally, "Why is your teacher eating with tax collectors (I can hear the disgust in their voice) and sinners (probably with gritted teeth)?" These religious LEADERS would never think of such a thing. To do so would have made them look bad, would have offended their clientele, would have shown approval of the sin right?
Jesus' response is phenominal! I hope you catch it. He responds, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Did Jesus not understand that these beloved people were missing the mark & were living in opposition to God? Absolutely! Does God overlook sin? Never! However, life is much deeper than behaviorism. Jesus, in spite of their sin/issues loved people. He loved them. Not a fake, religious love. It was a willful love, he wanted to. And it was an affectionate love, he felt warmly for them. And it was a charity love, someone needs to love them in their mess...I will.
He sends the religious leaders out with a rebuke, "Why do I hang with these people? Go and learn this-
1. I desire compassion, not sacrifice.
Their problem was that they were so worried about proving to God that they were all that, that they missed following God altogether. If you want to love God, you cannot act unloving to people. To love people is an expression of love for God. If you hate your brother who you have seen, you cannot love God who you have not seen. It is fine to be religious if that's your flavor. But MORE IMPORTANT is to love people & meet people where they are, to dive in, and love them through the journey. Regardless if they ever accept Jesus or not. Compassion doesn't mean that we ignore sin, but that we come alongside people and help them to grow to know Christ & to enjoy the freedom of choosing to follow God's best for them.
For the last 7 years, I have thought what I would do if I became a missionary in Kwakwani, Guyana. The first thing I would do, would be to go into the night clubs and make some friends. To have a great time dancing to the reggae music (I love reggae) and caring for my fellow man. May a Christian get mad at me or offended? Surely! But you can't expect someone with a different worldview to come to your church...and wring your hands because your church isn't growing! Maybe you aren't showing enough compassion if you aren't offending enough legalists. People in the back-lines like to complain.
2. Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous.
Were the religious leaders righteous? Just a couple of them (Nicodemus & some other guy are mentioned, then eventually Paul after God straightened him out). They were religious but still cut off from God, because they focused on their traditions and forgot all about God!
Let's be blunt. We are all sinners. We all sin. None of us is good at seeking after God. We are often too busy for him. Only a handful of Christians I know read the Bible and pray on a daily basis.
Still need to be convinced? Our standard of who is good & who is evil is Jesus. And he even rejected the title of good! Anyone who is not as sinless as Jesus is a sinner, evil, in need of God's mercy. I know a lot of people, and have yet to meet an exception-possibly Jan Clapper ;-p
. You all certainly know that I have my issues .
But that is the beauty of Jesus. He, being God, did not sit in a cloud high above and say, "Tisk, tisk, tisk. These people need to fry." He didn't sit up there with extreme rage. No, he is compassionate, understanding, loving. He said," There is none who seeks after me, not one. These people are sinners, I love them. They need help. They need me to come and to die for them-taking their sin & infirmities upon myself. Time to clothe myself in humanity and take their place. Time to go and satisfy God's wrath. I gotta take the initiative, all of these dear people are in sin and have fallen short of what is necessary to enter glory." Jesus moved, took the initiative in love.
So the next time you see a "sinner" a "hooker" a "dirty person" remember that you are not Jesus, and have your own issues. Be willing to enter their mess and love them. Share their struggle, care for THEM in spite of their failings. Love them willfully, unconditionally. Go to the sinner and help them meet this Jesus who can help them to be free from bondage & become healthy. Pay the hooker 10 bucks, take her to McDonald's and buy her a meal. Ask her about her struggles, life. Tell her about the God who loves her & wants to have a close relationship with her. Tell here about Jesus, who took her sin upon herself so she could be reconciled to God & have clear shameless access to him. Go to a dance club & shake your booty, and bring Jesus into the place-be a Jesus, be a Christian. Have a beer with the men after the softball game & walk beside them in life. Be Jesus to them.
Let's quit acting holy, and be holy. Let's quit just listening about Jesus at church, and become Jesus to people. If you don't, who will?