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 seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if this is a blueprint for how Christians 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 messenger-hider.

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. The cleansing they received from Jesus wasn’t a momentary thing, though. 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.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Desperately Needy

I recently read in an article at an agent blog—general market agent—that women love romance because we have a desperate longing.

How true, I thought, but the problem is, most don’t realize what it is they long for.

Because we are sinners, Mankind is in desperate need. Our sin cuts us off from the only true source of security and purpose. We try to bolster our egos (you’re OK, I’m OK) and find some kind of meaning to why we are on planet earth.

Some conclude that life is nothing more than eating and drinking and sexing because tomorrow we die. The problem is, apparently no one can ever quite get enough. Of anything. So we binge and purge, we opt for birth control and viagra, all so we can try to get our fill.

Others look for security in the people in their lives, but about the time we think we’ve found it (think, Sandra Bullock: I finally know what it feels like to have someone in my life who has my back), that other sinful soul lets us down.

We can’t even find satisfaction in ourselves. We excuse us and keep our expectations low by saying, Nobody’s perfect. And of course, nobody is.

Which doesn’t make us better. It just makes us as desperate as everyone else.

The game, of course, is to pretend we aren’t desperate—as if we don’t need anyone. And when we realize we do, then we decide it takes a village. If we can all just band together and help each other, maybe then we can solve crime and educate all the children and feed the poor.

Plus, doing something for others feels good. It makes me feel a little less desperate. So does another drink. Another pill. Another sexual encounter.

Until the hangover arrives. The pills run out. The sex ends in a broken relationship.

We humans are desperate, though we try to put on a happy face, try to ignore our own desperation, try to make sense of our condition through our own imaginings.

Enter Christ.

He came into a world populated with desperate people, and said, I’m life. Water. Light. Come to me.

What, I ask you, brings people to Christ?

The conviction of the Holy Spirit, definitely. But Scripture also says it’s the kindness of God. His love. His forgiveness.

Do people need to be told they have felt needs? I don’t think so. Do my neighbors, the kids going to school down the block, the people I stand in line behind in the grocery store need to be told, Your life has holes?

They know.

The problem is, they think they can fill the holes with stuff that is porous.

So I think, does fiction that delves into the horrors of the adult film industry or the pain of killing your own baby or the hopelessness of life on the street fill the holes? I don’t think so. I think what desperate people need is to see hope and help and healing. When they see this, they will recognize their own need for the same.

It’s a theory.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 1:10 pm  Comments (6)  
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