Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ (Luke 15:1-2)
The verses you just heard are only a small portion of a lengthy conversation Jesus had with the two groups mentioned: there were the Pharisees and scribes, and then there were the tax collectors and the sinners.
The Pharisees and scribes were the religious leaders of the day. They were the teachers and rulers of the Jewish synagogues. They were the religious watchdogs of their day, making sure that everyone was living according to God’s laws according to their interpretations of those laws. The scribes were the men who spent their days handwriting copies of the Old Testament. They were the Xerox machines of their day, and they would have known the Scriptures forward and backwards.
On the other hand, the tax collectors and the sinners were men and women of ill-repute. They were not respected in their communities as moral people, and most often were treated with contempt by those in religious circles. And tax collectors were the lowest form of humanity – even lower than prostitutes and lepers.
And ‘they’ were listening to Jesus!
The Gospel says tax collectors and sinners were listening to Jesus. We should ask two questions. First, why were the tax collectors and sinners wanting to hear to Jesus? Second, why did their coming to Jesus upset the Pharisees and scribes so much?
We could ask, what would the church have to do to be attractive to the sinners of our day, and why would their presence be offensive to the leaders of our churches?
We need to get back to the basics.
We need to sit with sinners and learn to identify with them. We don’t’ need to be two-faced, acting as friends and then condemning them to the righteous. We need to genuinely care for those the church views as outcasts or less important. Every word of scripture breathes God’s love and compassion for ALL human beings. God is searching of the rejected, the sinners. God never stops looking for us.
The answer to why the Pharisees and scribes grumbled may be similar to why church members grumble when the sinners are in their churches: they feel others are getting more attention than they are; they think the sinners are not worthy of occupying a pew; they worry about ‘how it will look’ to the other righteous ones. BUT, someone that they consider unworthy or beneath them is graciously accepted by God!
It is hard for them to accept Jesus’ words:
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7)
Human beings haven’t changed since the time of Jesus. We love to sit in judgment of others. We like to overlook our own sins and call out the sins of others. I would bet you’d find a lot of churches where folks would grumble about outcasts and sinners into their pews today.
The Pharisees had stopped seeing their fellow man as worthwhile. A person’s worth was measured by their conformity to their culture: their position in life, their social status, their appearance. If they failed to conform, they lost value in the Pharisee’s eyes. They were damaged goods. And because the Pharisees were the self-appointed spokesmen and judges for God, in their eyes, that’s how God saw them too.
But, we are not damaged goods to God.
Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.
The Pharisees and scribes thought it was scandalous behavior. The rabbi is spending time with outcasts. He’s identifying with them. He’s accepting them as they are.
But, God wants to spend time with the outcasts. He identifies with them. He accepts them as they are.
There is hope.
We love God because He love us now.
God will spend time with anyone that wants to spend time with Him.
- When we fail, Love is reaching out to us.
When we wake, Love is reaching out to us.
When we sleep, Love is there.
When we hurt, Love is there.
Love is always reaching out to us.
When others (even Christians) reject us, Love is still there.
Were you raised in a judgmental home or church? Know in your heart that God’s love is reaching out to you.
Have others called you damaged goods? Do others spurn you? Have you been rejected even by a church?
Love is still there reaching out to you.
That is how valuable you are to Him. That is how much you matter.
“This Man receives sinners and eats with them”
says the scripture
These are possibly the greatest words we could ever hope to hear about God and Jesus.
It is important to remember that in this Gospel reading the gift of love and grace is made available to ALL OF US. Not only to tax collectors and sinners but to self-righteous religious people as well.
God’s love and acceptance is for everybody.
Let us pray:
Dear God, lead me in the way I need to go; teach me the things I need to know; help me where I need to grow; use me in the way that will glorify your name; wrap me in your loving arms. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 22 September 2013