Lenten Reader -- Day 29
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Matthew 11:19) ----------
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is -- that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:36-39)
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:1-7)
Sin is dirty, and it separates us from God. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time got at least this much right. But they had worked it all out in their own favor, exempting themselves from consequences. And in so doing, they had built their own system, a system of insiders and outsiders, divided by arbitrary laws that God had not written and enforced by real guards.
The outcasts - the sick, the ceremonially unclean, the sinful, the drunkards, the prostitutes, the Samaritan half-breeds and the tax collectors (those who lined their own pockets for the sake of the Romans and at the expense of their fellow Jews) - these people had little in common save one thing: none of them were allowed entrance to the temple. They were not allowed to approach God.
Yet it is these people Jesus finds himself with, even seems to seek out. He dines with sinners and tax collectors, lets prostitutes wash his feet, refuses to stone an adulteress to death, even touches lepers and a bleeding woman!
For a Jew who had strictly obeyed the law, these behaviors were completely incongruous. Unless Jesus is saying something, making a statement about what God thinks of men in authority who hide their own sins behind robes and titles while exposing the sins of others and prohibiting them from worship.
Jesus did not judge the sinners or the unclean. He loved and respected them. More than that, he offered them acceptance and claimed he, himself (not the traditions that stood against them) was the only way to God.
And because he spoke with authority and walked in integrity (because he hid no sins under his robes), many of them believed him.
Holy Lord, you dwell on a high and holy place. Holiness informs all that you say and do, and holiness is what eludes me most. I am a sinner by nature, and I have sinned in my thoughts, feelings and actions. I live in a sinful world among sinful people. And yet you have sent your Son to redeem us. He was known as a friend of sinners. People who were nothing like him liked him and were drawn to him. You chose to sanctify me in him, to set me apart from my sin. You accepted me as I am, and you love me so much that you promise me that I do not have to remain as I am. Rather, through the power of your Holy Spirit, you have begun changing me in ways I could never change myself. All glory and honor are due your name. Amen.