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Yes—Jesus welcomed (and welcomes) sinners

December 22, 2023

Daily Scripture

Mark 2:13-17, Luke 15:1-2

Mark 2
13 Jesus went out beside the lake again. The whole crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he continued along, he saw Levi, Alphaeus’ son, sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi got up and followed him.
15 Jesus sat down to eat at Levi’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples. Indeed, many of them had become his followers. 16 When some of the legal experts from among the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why is he eating with sinners and tax collectors?”
17 When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”

Luke 15
1 All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Daily Reflection & Prayer

In Jesus’ day, there were no published tax rates and tax tables. Tax collectors operated more like extortionists, collecting all they could from helpless tradesmen and farmers. Much of the money they collected went to Israel’s Roman occupiers; the rest went into their pockets. Inviting a tax collector to join him was shocking, as was welcoming that person’s circle of friends. The Pharisees and legal experts grumbled—but Jesus went right on welcoming sinners who wanted to join his kingdom.

  • “Those first-century Pharisees sure were narrow and blind, weren’t they?” Yes—but we may need to look in the mirror, too. Christian singer Todd Agnew’s song “My Jesus” included these challenging lines: “My Jesus would never be accepted in my church, ‘Cause the blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet.” * What comfortable customs, habits or assumptions about who is and isn’t welcome might Jesus challenge in your workplace, neighborhood or church today?
  • What should life in God’s Kingdom look like? The Pharisees and legal experts thought God looked down on “those people” who didn’t act just right. They felt they were right in snubbing them, too. Jesus infuriated them by acting as though God loved and welcomed all people who valued his kingdom. Did your early experiences of God and “church” agree more with the Pharisees, or with Jesus? Are you secure with your church loving today’s “tax collectors and sinners” or not?

Lord God, your love and care reaches to all people, and I’m grateful it’s touched my life. Thank you for Jesus, who expanded the borders of your Kingdom beyond all my human biases. Amen.

GPS Insights

Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe and his wife, Doris, first met in a Resurrection Single Adult Sunday School class in 1997 and were married in what is now the Student Center. They are empty nesters with 2 college-aged sons, Matthew and Jacob. Darren serves as a Couples Small Group co-leader & Men's Group Leader, while volunteering in a variety of other capacities at Resurrection.

Considering today’s passage, I thought we might “visit” with Mr. Phillip A. Minyon, owner & proprietor of Sir Loin’s Round Table, a local steakhouse with the slogan, “Come for the food & stay for the knight-life.”

DL: Mr. Minyon, thanks for your time.

Phil A. Minyon: Please, call me Phil. You’ll have to excuse me, I’m moving a little slow today. I accidentally backed into the grill yesterday. Worst burnt ends I’ve ever had.

DL: I guess you could say you got a little behind in your work. So, you had mentioned that you love today’s passage. Why?

Phil A. Minyon: I’m passionate about the importance of breaking bread to bring people together. Every Thursday evening I invite folks from a wide variety of backgrounds & viewpoints to a “Meat & Greet.” I’ve found that food can be a catalyst to help people find common ground, build trust, & create long-lasting relationships.

DL: So, how does this passage sync up with your passion?

Phil A. Minyon: I think we readers of this Scripture breeze over just how astonishing this dinner really was. At this point in His ministry, Jesus had chosen 6 of His Disciples. They were all Jews & some were devout followers of John the Baptist, so we can conclude they were religiously focused. 
Jesus then adds another Jew, Levi/Matthew. However, with Matthew’s occupation as a tax collector for the Roman Empire, the other Disciples would have viewed him with repugnance or even outright hatred. Then this “newcomer” hosts a dinner right out of the gate. One can easily imagine his home being comparatively luxurious, which might have also encouraged feelings of bitterness & envy from the other Disciples.

DL: This dinner gets even dicier. Matthew invites some of his fellow tax collectors to join the dinner & also adds in other men & women with questionable backgrounds. The other Disciples had probably been taught since they were young to do everything they could to avoid this crowd & here they are having dinner with them in the home of a despised enemy of the Jewish people.

Phil A. Minyon: Exactly. Jesus has His work cut out for Him this evening. The beginning of this dinner was probably filled with moments of awkward silences. But then I can easily imagine Jesus working the room, helping the conversations along as He opened chats about that road construction on the road to Jericho, whether the desert heat is a dry heat, or maybe asking Matthew for his recipe for the delicious kabobs.
I suspect the dinner party started to become a loud affair with lots of smiling & laughter. There’d be poignant moments as Jesus began to make loving connections with each person, emphasizing God’s grace, His love for ALL of His children, & speculating on what their God-given gifts could mean for His Kingdom. At some point in the evening, Jesus might have patted Matthew on the back, indicating that this was His favorite kind of dinner party. The shindig probably went on into the wee hours of the morning–no one wanted to break away from this time of peace & bliss.

DL: Agreed.  So, what might this mean for us today?

Phil A. Minyon: I get so frustrated when “experts” encourage us to skip family gatherings or avoid meals with people who hold different views than our own. Whether they know it or not, they are encouraging people to build walls (or perhaps moats is the more accurate description) to keep people at arms-length. Of course, these same experts then lament how loneliness & depression are on the rise.

DL: So, maybe we should go “old school” & avoid the formerly taboo conversational topics like religion, sex, & politics. Maybe we could slowly start to build (or rebuild) common ground & chat about favorite foods, childhood reminisces, or treasured sports memories. We should keep in mind our goal is to host a dinner like Jesus where everyone would experience peace, sense God’s grace, & feel loved.

Phil A. Minyon: Amen! Now if you’ll excuse me, after the success of our original “Meat & Greets,” we’re hosting an evening just for young people in our community to gather & find common ground.

DL: That’s awesome. What’s the group called?

Phil A. Minyon: “Pro-Teens.”

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Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Click here to hear Todd Agnew’s entire song with lyrics.