The Untouchables – Public Sinners

The Untouchables – Public Sinners

The Untouchables – Public Sinners.

“Many dishonest tax collectors and other notorious sinners often gathered around to listen as Jesus taught the people. This raised concerns with the religious leaders and experts of the Law. Indignant, they grumbled and complained, saying, ‘Look at how this man associates with all these great sinners and welcomes them all to come to him!'” (Luke 15:1-2). “Jesus and His disciples went to have a banquet with Levi Matthew. Among the guests in Levi’s house were many tax collectors and notable sinners sharing a meal with Jesus, for there were many kinds of people who followed Him. But when the religious scholars and the Pharisees found out that Jesus was keeping company and dining with public sinners and tax collectors, they were indignant. So they approached Jesus’ disciples and said to them, ‘Why is it that someone like Jesus defiles Himself by eating with sinners and tax collectors?’ But when Jesus overheard their complaint, He said to them, ‘Who goes to the doctor for a cure? Those who are well or those who are sick? I have not come to call the ‘righteous,’ but to call those who are sinners and bring them to repentance. Then He added, ‘Now you should go and study the meaning of the verse: ‘I want you to show mercy, not just offer me a sacrifice.'”(Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17).

Jesus is really enjoying Himself. He is the guest of honor at a banquet hosted by His newest disciple, Matthew the tax collector, and He is making Himself at home. Because Levi Matthew made a lucrative career out of collaborating with the hated Romans, to the extent of extorting money from his own people, Matthew is an outcast in Jewish society. He was considered by the religious establishment to be unclean, a public sinner, and was not even allowed to worship in the local synagogues. It makes sense then that the only friends Matthew had were other outcasts, other sinners as judged by the Temple authorities. Add to that the fact that there were many public sinners who followed Jesus from place to place, and there was sure enough quite the unsavory group at Matthew’s house.

Jesus was happy to be known as the “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). He loved eating with the riffraff, to be at table with them. He thought that sharing a meal was a sacred time of fellowship. It was a way to unite with people, to identify with them, to enjoy social interaction and deepen friendships. It was a natural part of Jesus’ personality that He broke bread with those on the margins and made them the center of His attention. After all, He knew what it felt like to be judged and rejected. Jesus found that the outcasts didn’t have any pretensions, they didn’t pretend to be holy or respectable. He found their authentic honesty to be refreshing. They thought that since they were already being judged for their actions, why bother hiding anything? They were used to living with the reality of their bad reputations, so why pretend otherwise? Jesus accepted them and went out of His way to build a sense of trust with the outcasts. He made it a practice to eat with anyone who invited Him to the table, Pharisee or sinner. But His everyday companions tended to be those who were on the outside looking in. “For I have come to invite the outcasts of society and the sinners, not those who think they are already on the right path.” (Matt. 9:13).

In the middle of Matthew’s banquet, a Pharisee came to the door in a huff, expressing his disgust with Jesus. He told Jesus that He was defiling Himself by eating with these reprobates. The Pharisee then confronted the disciples, asking them how they could let their celebrated rabbi associate with such sinful characters. Like all Pharisees, this man was making a blanket judgment. The Pharisees called people sinners for any number of offenses, ranging from public sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, to those Jews who didn’t ritually wash their hands before eating. Sinners could be those who didn’t tithe properly, or loved to eat on fasting days. Sinners could be those who didn’t pay Temple tax. In the Pharisees’ mind, sinners could be anything from notorious criminals to impious Jews who don’t worship in the Temple or attend synagogue regularly. Matthew’s group at the table were a wide range of sinners, and the Pharisee rejected the whole lot of them.

Finally, Jesus had enough of this self-righteous Pharisee. “Listen, now,” He said to the accusing Pharisee. “You shouldn’t be surprised at my presence with these people. I have come to reach out to the lost, and gather them in. My mission is to offer myself to those who realize they need me. Why reach out to  people like you, who think they are sufficiently righteous and don’t need my grace. You think you are well, and don’t need a doctor. My friends here know they need grace to restore their lives. Now here’s what I want you to remember from the prophet Hosea… ‘I would rather have you show mercy than offer sacrifices.’ Get off your religious pedestal and show some mercy to people who are obviously in need.”

The Pharisee didn’t like Jesus’ response, and left Matthew’s house full of disgust and indignation. And Jesus returned to the table to visit with His friends. And they probably talked the night away.