29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Luke 5:29-30
These verses are one of the several examples that illustrate how Jesus made the Pharisees, the religious leaders feel uncomfortable about his actions.Tax collectors, sinners, surely not worthy of having diner with Jesus!?!
A similar, in fact even farther stretching story is found in Matthew 9
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I was reminded of these stories when, glancing over some old documents in a (vain) attempt to clean up my computer I stumbled upon a little booklet with tips for religious leaders. What was I tho think of the tip that as a religious leader we should at least maintain “one friendship with a non-believing friend.”
Did I read it right? It brings us back to some very basic questions on where we stand as a Christian. Are we ok to eat with scandalous people or sinners, or unbelievers? It can not be denied that we are called to fellowship with fellow believers but that does not mean we should shut the door for the rest of the world. The safe and cleaned up bubble Christianity has become for so many may well need more dinners with tax collectors and sinners! Jesus didn’t come to please the religious crowd nor to fall out to the social crowd. He didn’t come to hang out with the wild ones. Instead, Jesus entered the world to set the captives free, to gather what was lost. When we look back over the Gospel of Luke, we see Jesus reaching out to men and women, young and old, powerful and forgotten, sick and demon possessed, as well as the politically connected, the traitors. What is that telling us about “loving our neighbor”?
An old friend from the Netherlands wrote me the other day to express his joy in seeing me “finally being a Christian”. It was at that moment I found out that himself had been a Christian for all those years we were good friends without ever knowing about it. Perhaps if he would have been more clear about it, either in word or action, it would not have taken me forty five years. (Then again, was I really ready to listen at the time?) He explained to me that he was somewhat private about his faith. My suggestion is that as a Christian that is exactly what we should not be doing. You don’t need to force it on others, but that does not mean you have to be quiet about it; at least you could be open about it.
Howard E Wright states quite confrontational:
“Closet Christian,” why are you hiding out today? Are you hiding out to save your own skin? Are you afraid of what people will say if you declare your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Wherever you are hiding, you need to come out and declare your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The world is going to eternal ruin while you hide in your church and fellowship with “the frozen chosen.” It is the same kind of thing the churches did in Germany when train loads of Jews and Christians that were taken off to gas chambers were passing by their churches. They just turned the organ up a little louder.
If all our friends are Christian, we miss the path shown to us by Christ. Who are the tax collectors and sinners of your neighborhood? Would they invite you over to their place for dinner? How do you feel about that? It seems to me that it is pretty hard to make disciples of all nations if the only people you see are “the converted.” If there is anything to be learned here it is that we do not need to make Christianity something we do in our spare time in our little Christian “members only club” we call, a church.
The statistics are clear; once the average person becomes a believer in Christ, he or she loses contact with all unbelieving friends within two years: you could call it “pagan friend ditching.” Some do this on purpose others as a consequence of their new life or because of a misinterpretation of 2 Corinthians 6:14:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
However Paul is not telling us to not have unbelieving friends, but not to join together with unbelievers in their practices and world view. In other words, the yoking together means to join with them in their lifestyle and belief system; to be like them. This does not mean that we can’t have unbelieving friends. In fact we should have unbelieving friends. some good reasons:
- It’s not the healthy that need a physician (Matthew 9)
- They keep you real, in that they will force us to know where we stand when we say things like “I was moved by the Spirit.” You may be able to get away with that amongst your club members, but what if you are asked straight forward: “what do you mean moved by the Spirit?” E.g. is there still substance behind your jargon?
- They keep you on your toes, with great questions. So far the best suggestions and questions seem to be coming from my non believing friends. I ended up learning a lot having to come up with answers to their questions.
- Probably the best reason is that Christ had unbelieving friends, so what is stopping us. If it was good enough for Christ, that who are we to ignore such friendships.
Jesus life challenges the Pharisee in all of us? He’s not lashing out against religion but against hypocrisy against form over substance. How are we ever going to find the lost sheep if we refuse to look beyond the flock? How are we ever going to heal the sick of we commune with healthy people only, how are we going to make disciples of all nations if we commune with followers only?
As a final thought this quote from a Matthew 9 Commentary:
Jesus came to call sinners-to invite them to God’s final banquet (Mt 22:3, 14), a foretaste of which the present table fellowship with them may have represented. Jesus’ demand for mercy is so critical that it recurs in 12:7 (see also 23:23). Many of Jesus’ contemporaries who practiced sacrifice also emphasized the priority of mercy over physical sacrifice. That Jesus’ opponents agreed with his principle in theory yet invited his reprimand should force us who acknowledge his doctrine to survey our practice as well (compare Jer 2:35; 1 Jn 1:10). …
… But Jesus’ example gave me courage to continue to engage all people with the gospel, regardless of their moral background; and some of them committed their lives to Christ. Yet I have learned that some apparently worshipful and Bible-centered churches do not welcome such persons-suggesting that ultimately Jesus who ate with sinners might not truly be welcome there either.
With which sinner are you going to have diner?