Jesus And The Dirty Dozen

During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept—sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church, some inside the church and some without, seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if Christ’s interaction with the non-religious of His day is a blueprint for how Christians today are to live.

Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios—wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too—on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the brave woman who hid the messengers.

So these sinners that Jesus was eating with—were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different—he was hosting a party!

The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. Now they came to Jesus, and the cleansing they received wasn’t a momentary thing. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

This article first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on February 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. I often hear people state that it is ok for them to go any and everywhere, because Jesus also associated with sinners. I agree, there is a difference between ministering to and hanging with.

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  2. Amen! Something else that speaks to what you are saying, is how Jesus often renames people. Saul became Paul, and so forth. So a new creature, a new name, a new role to fulfill.


  3. Hmmn are the sinners hanging out with us or we are hanging out with them…there is definitely a 360 degree difference. And i wonder why the church(us) seem not be influencing sinners around us to make the needed change just like Jesus. Thanks for sharing this.

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  4. Good one Becky. This reminded me of a fellow I worked with once when I was still very new in the faith. He claimed to be the music director at his church, but had the foulest mouth on the planet, just like all the other guys we work with.

    I was kind of stymied by this, as it really didn’t seem to me to be how he ought to be acting. I finally got fed up with it, and drug him off in a private corner and asked him what his problem was, and his explanation was right in line with your post. He justified it by saying we have to be able to relate to sinners to witness to them.

    Even brand new, that seemed pretty stupid to me, so I shared my thoughts on his stupidity pretty clearly LOL.I actually told him that if he was going to act that way, it would probably be best if he just left out the part about being a Christian, because frankly he was making Christianity look pretty stupid. OK, so diplomacy is not always my strong point.

    But, happy ending really. He, at least around me, cleaned up his mouth. I suspect he also told the story, because over time most everybody started tempering their speech around me, so I don’t have to hear nearly as much of it as I used to.

    But, the actuall point here is this. Look, I work with the biggest bunch of profane heathens on the planet. We can coexist peacefully with, and share our faith with, the worst of the worst without having to become them.

    Great, thought provoking post Becky.

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