Do You Hang Out With Tax Collectors and Sinners?
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
Those of us who have been Christians for a while can easily miss the stunning scandal in Luke 15:1-2. We know from our exposure to the biblical Gospels that Jesus often hung out with tax collectors and “sinners.” We assume that he did so in order to reach them with the good news of the kingdom of God, calling them to repentance and new life.
This is true, of course. But we can fail to perceive the utterly scandalous nature of Jesus’ relationships with people who were not the right sort of people. In first-century Judaism, godly people kept their distance from the ungodly. This was especially true of the Pharisees, who believed that contact with common folk, even common Jewish folk, would tarnish their own holiness. Pharisees would only eat with the few who were ritually clean. But Jesus, he did everything wrong! He had fellowship with tax collectors, the Benedict Arnolds who made their money by colluding with evil rulers like Herod and Caesar. He even ate with people who were widely known to be sinners. How could one who claimed to represent God act so unwisely?
Jesus’ practice of enjoying fellowship with tax collectors and sinners was deeply unsettling and shocking in his day. I also find it striking to note that such notoriously bad folk actually came to Jesus. They wanted to be around him, to keep his company and hear his teaching. And Jesus gladly accepted them, even sharing meals with them.
The example of Jesus challenges me, perhaps you too. Do I hang out with the tax collectors and sinners in my world? Or do I sequester myself in the safe fellowship of the saints? Would people who have chosen to live in ways obviously contrary to God’s will ever want to be with me? Would they chose to come near to me?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What about you? In what ways do you imitate the openness of Jesus to all people, including “tax collectors and sinners”? Why do you think people like that flocked to Jesus? How might you live like Jesus in your own life at work, in your community, among your friends?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you for your willingness to hang out with tax collectors and sinners. Your example challenges me to open my heart and open my life in new ways.
Of course your fellowship with so-called “sinners” points to an even deeper truth: that you came into this world in order to save sinners, including me. I may not be labeled a “sinner” in my social world, but I am every bit as much in need of your grace as the tax collectors and “sinners” who gathered around you. So, thank you, dear Lord, for having fellowship even with me! Amen.