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“And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:16-17).
You would never have found a Pharisee sitting at this table. Not ever. The name itself means “separated ones,” and these men took their title seriously. They didn’t want to convert sinners; they simply wanted to distance themselves from sinners.
And yet here is Jesus sharing food and drink with the unholy. The Pharisees disapproved of His choice, but on the other end of the pendulum, a lot of people today look at this story and see only that “Jesus was a friend of sinners.” Too often, the story ends there for those who are determined to find a champion for their sin of choice. “See? Jesus ate with sinners. That proves He didn’t have an issue with their lifestyle.”
Well, no. Read the last line of that passage: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Jesus didn’t aim to dine with every sinner in Jerusalem; He aimed to bring every sinner in Jerusalem to repentance that each might enter heaven.
Another story that demonstrates this truth is the woman at the well. No good Jew would speak to the Samaritan woman, yet Jesus did. And in so doing, He rattled one cage. But He also rattled the other, because He didn’t send her off with a wink. He sent her off with an instruction: “Go and sin no more.” Not very tolerant, is it?
We’re living in a time and in a culture that is determined to recreate Jesus in a form that makes it feel comfortable. He is not permitted to be both loving and just; He is only allowed to be loving, because that’s the kind of God who would smile benevolently at sin. But that’s as big a misrepresentation of God as the picture the Pharisees put forth.
The Pharisees would only accept a Messiah who turned His nose up at sinners; the culture today will only accept one who applauds and embraces their sin. But right in the middle is our Messiah, who hated sin enough that He died to eradicate it, and who loves the sinner enough that He won’t make it easy for them to continue on a path to death.
I heard a story once about a sociology professor who brought his class to a ghetto in Chicago to observe the extreme poverty there. One of his female students noticed a small, very filthy child sitting on the curb.
“What’s wrong with that child’s mother?” the student scoffed. “Look at all that dirt on her face and arms and feet. Look at that matted hair and that filthy dress. How expensive could one bar of soap be?”
The professor turned to the disapproving student and said to her, “You hate the dirt, but you don’t love the child. Her mother loves her, but doesn’t hate the dirt. And until the hatred for the dirt and the love for the child get into the same person, her life will never change.”
Jesus is that “one person.” He loves us, and He hates the dirt. And we must never forget that He feels strongly about both.