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Dining with Sinners and Tax Collectors

How are Christians to interact with those who are lost? God calls disciples to be IN the world, but not OF the world. This can lead to a retreat from the world at-large into a Christian sub-culture, where we interact only with fellow believers and shun unbelievers and sinners.

We need to remember that Jesus dined with sinners and tax collectors. This passage, found in Matthew 9:9-13 presents the undeniable fact that Jesus reclined in the presence of those who were moral outcasts and political traitors. Some may say that Jesus accepted these individuals as they were and did not judge them nor call them to change who they were. Should Christians love and accept sinners and the lost as they are and not seek to share the Gospel with them and help bring them to faith in Jesus?

To better understand this passage we need to see it in context. The catalyst of this supper is the conversion of the disciple Matthew, who was a tax collector himself. The focus at the conclusion of the narrative falls on the Pharisees’ response, who blame Jesus for simply being in the very presence of these outcasts. Jesus answers with two extremely profound statements.

Jesus first says, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” In this comment, the Savior equates the healthy with being the Pharisees and the sick being the sinners and tax collectors. Yet, this is not a compliment for the Pharisee. For the sick will get better, but the Pharisee has a false sense of self-health. The Pharisee diagnosed himself as righteous because of who he was, the laws he kept, and the group with whom he identified. Because the Pharisees taught and interpreted the Law and they followed the ceremonies of their religious group to the letter, this made them feel righteous before God. To the Pharisee sinners and tax collectors were outside the possibility of goodness simply because of the present nature of their sinful status. They were disqualified. They were outside the grace of God. They did not deserve the attention of righteous people. Jesus said otherwise. He said to conclude the passage, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous (the self-righteous), but sinners.”

The sinners and tax collectors who dined with Jesus were friends and fellow outcasts with Matthew, Jesus’ newest disciple. The religious establishment shunned them. They knew deep down in their hearts that something was missing in their life. They knew they were sinners, and they saw their hope in Jesus. They were humble enough to listen to the Savior. The Pharisees saw themselves to be good enough on their own, and they did not need a Redeemer. This passage teaches us that only a humble realization of sinfulness will point to salvation. Pride and self-righteousness will never lead us to the answer we seek. Religion never saves, only Jesus does. We as Christians must realize that it is only by the grace of God that we are saved, and God calls us to focus on compassion towards those who are blinded by sin.

Jesus came to those who sought Him where they were; Jesus went where He was invited. He did not wait for them to get “better” on their own before engaging with them in dialogue. Yet, Jesus called the sinners and tax collectors to a changed life of repentance. We must not forget that Matthew left his tax booth never to return, Zaccheus reimbursed four times over those he defrauded, and Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” The Messiah teaches disciples that there is no one still breathing on this earth who is outside the possibility of grace and mercy. No one is too far removed from the reach of the Savior’s Gospel. Christians must bring the gospel to where the lost are. Therefore, Christians must be known by the compassion of Jesus, not the condemnation of the Pharisee. Then, maybe sinners will invite us in for dinner to tell them about this Jesus we know.

-Joshua Moore is Pastor at Sharon First Baptist Church, Sharon, TN. This article was first published in the 8/9/2023 edition of the Weakly County Press, Martin, TN. Photo courtesy of Matheus Frade []

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