This passage troubles me as a minister, and as a Christian. Let me tell you why. I love that Jesus invites Levi, the tax collector to follow him. I love that the next scene involves Jesus dining with Levi, the tax collector and other sinners. And that great line about the “it’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” I always have read this passage from a vantage point of comfort, thinking I was one of the sinners. I am. I have been. And will be again, I am sure. But what if there is more to the text? What if we read from another angle?
What troubles me then, is that I think in our churches, and in our ministries we more resemble the Pharisee’s than we do Jesus! We like comfort and control. We don’t like messes or the messy. The unpredictable causes us to panic.
Are our churches places where the unchurched, or sinners would even want to come too?
I think we as a people sometimes are critical of those whose lives aren’t together, and neat. We are suspect of “those,” people, whoever, “those” people are. You know who I am talking about. Those people that look different, talk different, or smell different then us. You know the one’s who live on that one side of town, or the one’s who stand in the unemployment or welfare lines?
I was at a social security office waiting to get a new Social Security card and I began paying attention to those who were there too. There was quite a mix folks there. I don’t know if any of them knew Jesus or know of him. The one’s next to me sitting down, reeked of cigarettes and had foul mouths. I was grateful my kids weren’t there, and was astonished by the woman’s potty mouth. Some of these people there were a complete mess. Jesus loves those kind of people. He eats with people like that. What do I do around such people? Probably the same thing many of us do, we scoot over in our seats, don’t really engage “those” people in conversation. We pretend that they don’t exist. Why do we do this?
What if our churches resembled Jesus more than we did the Pharisees, and were places were the unchurched and sinners felt more welcome to be present? This would require a major shift in our thinking, and in our practice of church. Am I myself someone who sinners would enjoy being around? If the truth be told…no. I am judgmental, critical and suspect of others who aren’t like me. I hate this about myself, and you would think someone who lived in the world a long time would know better.
The follow up question for us all is if Jesus was attracted to sinners. Are we? Do we even care? I pretend that I do. I want to think I do. But do I really?
What was it about Jesus that sinners were attracted too? The more I read Scripture the more I am convinced that it should come with a “warning label.” You cannot read Scripture seriously and not have your heart stepped on. We aren’t invited to be comfortable, or safe. Jesus invites us on a mission of self-denial, death, and service. We pour ourselves out to be be filled up with him to be poured out again for the benefit of the world. What was it about Jesus that attracted sinners to him? He loved them where they were. He wasn’t afraid to tell the truth about sin. He didn’t give up on them. He wasn’t afraid of their messes. He wasn’t afraid to touch them. He wasn’t afraid of going places where they were present. He saw them as his children, created in His image.
“Father, you know we have messed up a lot. We have distorted your image to the world and yet somehow we have gotten comfortable with this distorted image ourselves. Father, forgive me. Forgive us. Help us to be Jesus in our time, and in the places we go. Whether it be work, school, or the store, Father show up in us and through us. Give us compassionate hearts, a desire to care about the lost, the messy and sin-soaked people we bump shoulders with. Father, the church is not your plan B in the world. Help us O God to realign our practices, our beliefs and desires with yours. Father, you are good. We are not. Father, you are love and we are often times way less than this. Father, help us to rediscover the wonder and passion of our Journey with Jesus in this world. Father, you turned the world upside down 2000 years ago with 12 men who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus. They were forever changed, and now we too are carrying out that original mission to go into all he world. May we do so with courage, compassion, and with Jesus-y vision as we minister to people in our world. In Jesus name, Amen.”