|Wedding Feast at Cana - Jan Vermeyen|
The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
How many times will the "sinners" be portrayed as seeking after righteousness and the "religious" be seen criticising Jesus before the reader is confronted about their own views of who is the sinner and who is the righteous?
Some of us who believe that the Bible is true have a phrase "heroes of the Bible" when describing those Biblical people who we perceive as "good guys". There's even a chapter in the New Testament some have labelled "The Faith Hall of Fame".
But, when one closely considers that "Faith Hall of Fame", we learn that most, if not all, of those recorded in that chapter are frightfully flawed. Noah was a sloppy drunk. Abraham, in fear, openly lied that his beautiful wife Sarah was his wife and offered her to other men. Jacob and his mother lied to his father in order to receive his brother's rightful inheritance. Joseph foolishly bragged to his parents and older brothers about how they would bow down to him. Moses was a murderer and a coward. Rahab was a prostitute. Gideon wouldn't do what God told him to do until several nonsensical tests. Samson was a vengeful thug. David was a murderer and an adulterer.
A close examination of Scripture leads one to the invariable conclusion that there is only one hero: the One, True and Living God; the Great I AM. And it is He and He alone who decides who is a sinner and who is righteous.
Deep down, I believe the religious leaders knew what pompous claims they were making. Otherwise, they wouldn't have muttered them. They would have said it plainly. Instead, with hushed tones, they said things like "He eats with THOSE people?" "Why would the supposed Messiah eat with THEM?"
Jesus heard their muttering and responded with three stories. The most stinging rebuke held in the third. There are many rich nuggets to be mined from these wise words of Jesus.
As followers of Jesus, we are expected to step in the footprints of our Master. Because the human heart is the human heart; because there is nothing new under the sun, if we do the things Jesus did, we will come under the same scrutiny; under the same criticism.
Am I known as a person who eats with sinners? Will those who hold themselves up as closer to God see the company I keep and mutter to themselves, "He welcomes sinners and eats with them"?
There is one huge problem with this criteria: I am not Jesus. Jesus was not a sinner. I am a sinner. I am THOSE people. I am THEM. One of THOSE people was my dad. And having lived with the man, I can confidently tell you that he was flawed. He was a sinner. But, the one thing he did for me was the greatest gift a father could ever give to his son was to point the way to Jesus. He introduced me to Jesus. And, he left it up to me whether to follow Jesus.
And, I can confidently tell you that my parent's attitude toward all people was Jesus' attitude. My mom is a nurse. As a boy, I was very scared whenever I came along to one of my mom's home visits to care for a severely disabled person. I was intimidated as they would go into violent spasms unable to control their bodies as I was able. And then, I would see Mom simply do for people what they could not do for themselves. She would never treat them as inferior. She never abused them or took advantage of them. She would simply be thankful that she would be able to help those who needed her help.
My dad was a pastor and one of his favourite ministries was to the homeless. He would take me along to the homeless shelter to help serve meals, eat and chat with complete strangers. Again, dad never treated them as inferior. These men and their families wouldn't have put up with that attitude anyway. Then, I would remember times going with dad to the unemployment office during the times he was laid off from his paper mill job. Many years later, Dad was simply thankful that he was able to help those who needed his help just as he was helped by those who could give him help when he needed help.
Who takes their son to an unemployment office? A mental health facility? A homeless shelter? A church? My mom and dad did. I didn't realise it at the time, and they certainly didn't explicitly point it out, but I learned an important lesson through those experiences and their example.
There is no us and them, the way we understand it. There is only One who decides who is us and them. None of us are Him.
And, He makes it clear that the only divide is those who believe He is who He says He is and those who do not believe He is who He says He is.
So the question isn't whether I am known as a person who eats with sinners. It's whether I recognise that I am a sinner. He wants to eat with me. Will I let Him eat with me? Will I allow Him to be Lord of my table? Will I allow Him to invite whoever He chooses to eat with me?
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.