I’m big on appearances. I want to be thought of as the model Christian woman without actually doing the hard work required to earn the title. Instead of serving and loving and giving of myself, I dress up my life like a Pharisee so that others think I’m worthy of admiration.
One of the ways I curate my life to achieve this illusion is by surrounding myself with others who do all of these things so that I can piggyback on their holiness.
One of the things I avoid doing is bringing into my life anyone who might go rogue or tarnish that reputation.
I wish that I could tell you something different.
I wish that I could give you the story of a woman who loves extravagantly. But I do not.
I do, however, have a different role model for us to examine, one much better than myself, one who was known, not for guarding His reputation, but for earning the title “Friend of Sinners.”
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:15-22, ESV
Jesus didn’t care about His reputation. He didn’t care about what others falsely accused Him of. He cared about reaching the hearts that have been battered and bruised by the pain of the world.
He entered the homes of those no one would enter and sat and hear their stories. Instead of waiting until they were “acceptable” company, He dwelt with them because He saw what we couldn’t – that none of use are acceptable company.
Christ did not give us an example of keeping our lives separate from sinners, He gave us the example of radically loving and embracing sinners into our lives.
I don’t like to pretend like I’ve embraced broken people well. But there have been a few times where, despite myself, God has worked through me and allowed me to forge meaningful relationships with those seeking Him.
And each and every time, something amazing happened.
I saw a glimpse of what happened when I separated myself from others; I became a full-fledged pharisee.
When I guarded my life and viewed people in “us versus them” categories, I began to think more highly of myself than I ought.
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’” – Luke 18:9-13, MSG
I need to eat with sinners because I need to be reminded, over and over again, that I am a sinner and that we are not all that different. My sins may be less evident but they are there.
When I sat around my dining room table with friends who were sinners, in desperate need of an encounter with the one who died to save their souls, they didn’t put on a facade. If I asked them, they’d express a humility that my heart desperately needs.
It’s tempting to try to appear perfect and to puff myself up. But Christ didn’t give me that option. Instead, He told me to welcome others and to seek out the lonely.
Jesus didn’t wait until I was perfect to befriend me, He met me in my brokenness, and I’ve been called to do the same to those around me.
It’s hard, humbling, holy work.
And it’s something that is counter-intuitive to our culture.
But it’s crucial to the Gospel that we break down walls of legalism and welcome, in the name of Christ, those who need to meet their Savior into our homes. So today, I encourage you to break out of your comfort zone, and have dinner with sinners.