Saturday, July 8, 2017

If Jesus didn't dine with sinners I'd still be hungry

Matthew 9: 9-13
As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? “He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."

If Jesus were walking past you, would  He ask to dine with you?  This is a question I have asked myself many times over my journey as a Christian.  Jesus speaks here that he came to call the sinner not the righteous. So, as I have examined my life in the context of this question I have had to ask some questions with hard answers.  These are the type of questions that one might fear the answer. 

You see, rebellion isn’t immediately apparent to us and isn’t rebellion the root of all sin?  The Pharisees who were critiquing Jesus were rebelling against the heart of the law.  They used legalism, adherence to the letter of the law, to justify their behaviors.  They couldn’t see themselves as wrong, because in rebellion they saw themselves as righteous and correct.  So it can be with all of us too.  We can adhere to the letter of our doctrines, without embracing and living the heart/spirit of them, and become as the Pharisees too.  We can get so caught up in the rules that we forget that the rules exist to enable us to behave in a way that is most loving to one another, by placing God first in all things.  The insidious part of this kind of rebellion is that we can/do end up justifying all manner of wretched behavior to one another, in the name of God.  If you think I’m wrong, please examine the Pharisees in our Gospels.  They used the letter of the law, which they wrapped themselves up in so tightly, that they could justify deicide (killing God).   If you understand that, then you understand how frightening the answers could be to the very simple question: Would Jesus dine with me? 

Let us examine the difference between the people Jesus was dine with and the people who were questioning Him. 

Matthew and the other tax collectors would have been hated and thought to be sinners because in that time it was not uncommon for tax collectors to skim money from your taxes.  If you owed Rome ten dollars tax, you better bring fifteen because the tax man was going to take some for himself.  If you brought only ten then he was still taking five and sending you away with unpaid taxes.  See why they were considered to be worst of all sinners back then?  The hardship of paying taxes was bad enough, but then you had to overpay for the privilege.  They were placing undue burdens on already overburdened people AND working for the occupying government of Israel.  TSK, TSK! 

“Good” and “Holy” people didn’t associate with those thieves and traitors.  Pharisees didn’t kindly and compassionately try to bring them back to the Torah, encouraging them to amend their lives or teach them that stealing was/is/always will be an abomination to God because it harms, not only the spirit of the thief, but it harms the person being stolen from and therefore is a sin before God.  No, the Pharisees shunned these people as sinners, even though the Pharisees did similar but wrapped it up in legalism.  One thing is sure, the tax collectors didn’t justify their actions, they knew they weren’t good righteous people.  If I had to guess, they were addicted to the money and power.  I’m guessing this because if you look around today, it’s really not that hard to see how money and power are an addiction still.  Also, like then, money and power often come at the cost of the well-being of other people. 

The Sacred Scripture doesn’t elaborate on what other sinners were dinning with Jesus and the tax collectors.  However, if we look at that type of person who still exists today, you might be able to make some educated guesses.  Gold-diggers, other kinds of thieves, other people who compromised their morals to gain power, people trying to get what the tax collectors had…in other words people who were either clueless about a Godly life, or they simply gave it up in pursuit of worldly things.  Broken people who knew they were broken. 

Now, I’m not advocating we live a sinful life so we can understand or attain God’s grace.  Let’s be honest, we don’t have to work on sinning.  The lure of the worldly bombards us constantly already.  What I do think is important is that we take a naked look at who and what we are, and if we do that, and realize that first, then we become the people Jesus would dine with.  Jesus didn’t come to heal people who didn’t think they were sick.  He came to heal the people who either knew they were sick, or didn’t realize they were sick, until the Great Physician showed them the healing way.

May God heal us of how righteous with think we are and show us the path to true holiness.

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel