Every so often the problem with “sinners” comes up on my social media feeds. One group or another complains about still another group because those people are “sinners.” Those accusations bother me, so I check my feeds. Yep. Some of my friends are in that group of “sinners.” Based on the reactions of the accusers, I should probably purge my friends lists and make sure that I don’t have anyone from that group of sinners on it. I found an easier way to deal with the problem, though. I decided to go through those lists and remove anyone who wasn’t a sinner. Let’s face it – I find it far easier to deal with people like me – sinners – than I do dealing with perfect people. So, if you are reading this because you are on one of my friends lists, I can tell you that I believe that you are a sinner – just as I’m a sinner.
Now, I’m not glorifying sinning; I’m recognizing it. Some of you have really bad sins. (Bad sins, of course, being defined as something I wouldn’t do.) Some of your sins aren’t so bad. (That means you commit the same kinds of sins I do.) But, anyone who is on one of my friends lists and even anyone who sneaked in and was able to read this post, is definitely a sinner. Whether your sins are really bad or not so bad, we all have that one thing in common: we have sinned against God. Jesus hung out with sinners. Sometimes He got criticized for doing that by people who thought they were perfect. He spoke to the perfect people. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)
The disciples of Jesus had many different sins. One of the disciples He called was Matthew. Matthew was one of the worst sinners Jesus called: he was a tax collector. You might be agreeing with that characterization of tax collectors if you’ve been working on your taxes recently, but in ancient Israel, tax collectors were particularly odious. The people who work for the IRS these days follow certain rules, supposedly, to ensure that they oppress us all equally. The tax collectors in the Roman times were more flexible in their enforcement. Their biggest problem to most people was that they collaborated with the Romans. Then, in collecting taxes, they often added arbitrary taxes that didn’t make sense. It seems that after paying the Romans the agreed upon amount for taxes for the year, the tax collector kept everything else. No one like tax collectors – except, perhaps, other tax collectors. So, after Jesus called Matthew, Matthew threw himself a retirement party that brought together a lot of other tax collectors and sinners who all ate with Jesus. The perfect people criticized Jesus for His choice of meal companions prompting the reminder from Jesus about His ministry.
The hardest thing about this lesson from Jesus is that we really need to check our friends. If they’re perfect like us, we’re hanging with the wrong crowd. And, to be honest, we ain’t perfect. The question, though, is whether or not we are intentional about being with people who are different than us in their sins. Jesus was perfect, no doubt about that. He hung out with less than desirable people and enjoyed their company. At the same time, though, He drew then to the Kingdom of God. We need to be comfortable around all kinds of different people. We shouldn’t affirm their sin, but we should recognize their personhood. Our words and our actions should be drawing them towards faith in God. As a forgiven sinner, I should be reflecting the forgiveness of God that I received towards every person that I meet. I have no room to judge others when the only reason I can be with God is His mercy and grace.
Oh Lord, give me a heart for others like Jesus had. Let me love those whom others look down upon. Let me show them Your forgiveness and mercy in my words and deeds.