“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to [Jesus].” – Luke 15:1
Did you read that?
The tax collectors – considered traitors, dishonest, greedy, workers for the enemy
Sinners – one devoted to sin
These were the people who were drawing near to Jesus.
When I read this chapter this week, this is the verse that jumped out to me. And, as usual, my mind ran in a few directions.
I wondered why these people would be drawing near to Jesus? He was God the son in flesh, perfection, sinless. Those character qualities seem intimidating. It seems they would want to hide their failings from someone like Him.
But Jesus saw them. He didn’t ignore them like some would. He also didn’t criticize them, telling them how horrible they were. He didn’t avoid them like the religious of the day would have. He took the time to engage them, have dinner with them, heal them, feed them. He didn’t do these things because they were worthy. It wasn’t about them at all. It was about Jesus bringing glory to God by accomplishing exactly what He came to accomplish (John 6:38-40).
I could see how these people were drawn to Jesus by looking at other places in the gospels and seeing his interaction and heart for the people. And that got me to pondering something else.
Why do the “tax collectors and sinners” of today seem to avoid drawing near to the people of Jesus? What is different?
We could spout verses about darkness hating the light – truth from John 3:20. Yet, Jesus is the light of the world and sinners were still drawn to him.
We could mention spiritual battle, the enemy at work, hard hearts – all things that are true today and would have been true while Jesus walked this earth.
I believe a huge difference is in the way Jesus treated these “undesirables” and how the church today tends to treat them.
While many in the church tend to judge, criticize, and blame sinners, Jesus had compassion for them – Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32.
While we might feel the need to avoid such company, Jesus spent time with them, having dinner in their homes and inviting himself to their homes (Love the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19).
While we might worry what people would think if they saw us with such people, Jesus did not worry about his reputation.
I think too often we (Christians) view these “sinners” as the enemy. They aren’t the enemy, but the real enemy would like us to think so. We forget that we are sinners (like them) who have been saved by grace. We forget that after Jesus looked on the crowds with compassion in Matthew 9:36, he then says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
It is hard to be a laborer in the harvest if we avoid the fields.