This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.Luke 15:3
Of all the things to be known for…welcoming and dining with sinners. There is a common saying that you are the average of the top 5 people you spend the most time with. To be characterized as a sinner welcomer sounds like a dangerous thing to be if that is true. And to not only be cordial but share a meal, well that is way beyond dangerous.
And yet this is how the religious people characterized Jesus. They could have called him so many things by this time in Luke’s gospel. Healer. Teacher. Discipler (Rabbi). Prophet. Nazarene. And yet he was most closely identified, at least in the eyes of the religious, as one who spent time, offered himself, even brought honor to the people whose actions put them outside, and perhaps even antagonistic, to faith.
Instead of succumbing to the sin that surrounded him by the people he often surrounded himself with, Jesus embraced those who were tied to the actions without embracing their choices that were contrary to God’s good plan. Obviously he did not become the average of those he hung around.
I don’t like the expression love the sinner and hate the sin. I think it demeans others and sets up a relational power dynamic based on who is right verses who is wrong. But I also think there is something right about the statement too.
Jesus at times used the words “go and sin no more” after his interactions with those in sinful situations. We need not shy away from judgment of good and bad in terms of actions. In fact, it is imperative that we do just that for God’s path is too important to leave folks wondering. Judging actions, always humbly with recognition of the log in our own eyes, as to whether they are in line with God’s plan is necessary, but judging in terms of a person being good or bad is not.
I believe Martin Luther was right when he said Christians are a mixture of sinner and saint all wrapped up in one package. So how do we understand people outside the faith in Christ? Perhaps it is helpful to see others as a mix of the image of God and sin all wrapped up in one package. Therefore, the potential for a faith filled response to the Spirit of Christ lies within each person created in God’s image. That potential is what needs to be nurtured and even fanned into flame by the Spirit working through the people of God.
Which is why it is important to see Jesus’ way of welcome and eating with people as the way of evangelism. Did Jesus preach and teach? Of course. But the crowds were often attracted by his actions first, or hearing about his actions through the witness of others, and then open to his teaching. His welcoming and eating somehow opened doors for the work of repentance for not only those he had direct contact with but for a wider group who learned about his welcoming way. Maybe the old adage is correct that people don’t care what you know until they know you care? Or maybe belonging takes place before believing?
How does the church follow in Jesus’ footsteps of evangelism? That question is top priority for us. Well, that’s all I have for now…no pretty bow… just a question that only an honest assessment of our actions can answer. And a second question which may help answer the first…what are we known for? Oh, by the way, we don’t get to say what we are known for…the people around us help with that.