A few days ago I got involved in a rather nasty Facebook conversation. I’m not going to get into the details, but I was strongly reminded of something that happened to Jesus. A lot.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
I think we all get the story. The Pharisees are criticising Jesus for eating with the wrong sorts of people, but Jesus points out that, just like healthy people don’t need a doctor, good, moral people don’t need Jesus. Or, at least, the apparently immoral need him more. Let those with ears hear.
Back to the Facebook discussion. A group of people think that I, and some of my friends, are doing ministry the wrong way. They’re concerned that we don’t hate sin enough. Apparently we should be telling all of the sinners around us to stop sinning, and to do anything less is an abrogation, not only of our duty as Salvation Army officers but as disciples of Jesus. The fact that I have friends who are still sinners offends them.
These people sound just like the Pharisees looking through the window of Levi’s house simply to find something wrong with what we’re doing.
But you know what? I got to thinking that Jesus’ comment about the ‘sick needing a doctor’ needs to be reinterpreted. I’m starting to think that Jesus didn’t go to bring healing but to find it. He was talking about himself.
That’s right. Levi and all of his sinner friends were like doctors to Jesus. Jesus was fed up with the self-righteous crap that the Pharisees dumped on him all day. He needed somewhere to clear his head and find a bit of normality.
It’s not like the Pharisees were evil, exactly. They meant well. They were very concerned about sin. About holiness. About offending God. And they were really keen to make sure people didn’t upset God. Upstart preachers like Jesus should do the same.
If Jesus was as loving as people say, he’d be telling them all how much God hates their sin.
But instead, he goes to tea with them. Drinks wine with them. And asks them to hang out some more.
The Pharisees couldn’t handle that. Jesus had to be corrected (in love, of course.) He was a false preacher. He had no business calling himself a righteous Jew. If he had any integrity at all he should get out of the way and let the real preachers in.
The only people who weren’t telling Jesus to pull up his socks were the drunken, whoring, cheating sinners at Levi’s house. These people did Jesus’ soul some good. And I think I know exactly how Jesus felt.
The people I prefer to associate with don’t go to church. Some of them would love to, but they’re scared they won’t be welcome. They’re too gay, too drunk, too mentally ill. Their sins aren’t acceptable in church. Do they really need go to church to be reminded of how bad they are? Do they need people to lovingly come at them with Bibles blazing all barrels?
It’s an unfair caricature, I know. But it only takes one person to properly do your head in.
So go away, Pharisees. I don’t need your style of love and care. I need a doctor, and these guys are it.