Can we talk? We who want to follow Jesus have our successes and our failures. We’re focusing in this series of posts on the fact that many Jesus-followers don’t imitate the Lord in His connection with sinners. Matthew 11 is clear that He was “a friend of sinners.” Can the same be said of us? Of me? Of you?
He spent time with the least, the lost, and the last. We suggested in our previous post that many of us need a refresher course on basic friendship. If one were to study every social occasion in which Jesus spent time with sinners, one would learn that —
1. He listened to them (Zacchaeus in Luke 19).
2. He ate and drank with them (the feeding of the 4000 and of the 5000 in Mark 8).
3. He was not afraid to meet with them publicly (the story of the man born blind in John 9).
Perhaps that third aspect of Jesus’ friendship with sinners merits some discussion. Are we Jesus-followers afraid of being a friend of sinners because we fear criticism — from the family of God?!
Jesus told the three stories of lostness (the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son) in Luke 15 because of the criticism from the religious leaders. The text reads, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” Notice that there was something attractive in Jesus that drew the tax collectors and sinners to Him. And His response was to “welcome” them. And to eat with them!
But He also ate with the religious leaders! In Luke 7 Jesus was invited to have dinner with one of the Pharisees. A sinful woman in that town came into that Pharisee’s home and anointed His feet with perfume, wetting His feet with her tears (presumably, of repentance). The Pharisee who had invited Jesus said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” But the truth was He was already with a sinner — the Pharisee! And was eating with him!
Jesus was an equal-opportunity friend. He could dine with the religious and defend the repentant sinner. Criticism did not curtail His mission or harden His heart.
The movie director Mel Brooks was once asked by an interviewer what he thought of critics. He said, “Well, when you’re camping in the woods, they can be very noisy at night and will keep you from sleeping.” “No,” said the interview, “not crickets, CRITICS!” “Oh,” said Brooks. “They are even worse. They can’t even rub their back legs together to make music!” Don’t let the religious critics keep you from being more like your Lord! (to be continued)