16 “To what will I compare this generation? It is like a child sitting in the marketplaces calling out to others, 17 ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a funeral song and you didn’t mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 Yet the Human One [or Son of Man] came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by her works.”
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.”
No one really likes taxes, but not many would group IRS workers with the worst people in a phrase like “tax collectors and sinners.” It was different in Jesus' day. Of Roman taxes, historian N. T. Wright wrote, “Some of the tolls were levied simply at the whim of local rulers, shamelessly lining their pockets and giving the collectors tacit license to do the same.”* We can understand why “Jewish people viewed [tax collectors] as traitors.”** Many of them likely pictured tax collectors when Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Lord Jesus, you viewed people first through the eyes of God’s all-embracing love. Keep changing me from the inside out to see people as you see them. Amen.
* N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 36.
** HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 232530-232532). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
*** N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 37.
Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said, “Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.” I think the same sentiment holds true for knowing people. Knowing someone—truly knowing them—is far more important than knowing about them.
Jesus became an easy target for the religious people of his day because he associated with those whom they considered the dregs of society. Instead of condemning them, Jesus made the effort to truly know them, even call them friends. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” What Jesus demonstrates is how, in getting to know someone, our limits to love begin to evanesce.
Growing up in a variety of Christian churches, I was taught a lot of things about a lot of people my religious leaders labeled “sinners." I was taught that homosexuals were immoral people, that Catholics were idol-worshippers, that people who practiced other religions were doomed to the fiery anguish of hell for not calling on the name of Jesus. But even as a child, I knew to question these teachings and grew suspicious of religious authorities, even when they quoted the Bible to buttress their hatred.
Because my beloved fourth grade teacher was gay.
Because my neighbors across the street, the dearest friends I’d ever known, were Catholic.
Because my other neighbor, who burned incense beside her home’s shrine to Buddha, lovingly blessed me with each visit to her house in piles of egg rolls and sticky rice.
In knowing them I knew, beyond a doubt, that Jesus loved them every bit as much as he loved people like me.
Last year, Pastor Adam led a sermon series on “Christianity and World Religions.” Because of my passion for interfaith work, I was asked to lead a corresponding 3-week study for the Resurrection Downtown campus. I agreed on the condition that instead of teaching about other religions, I could take people to actually meet them. We set off to the Rime Buddhist center, the Hindu Temple and a local mosque, and were greeted with extraordinary hospitality as we observed prayers, asked questions and, best of all, sparked friendships. I think Jesus was present among us in all of those spaces of gathered peoples, expanding our capacity to love.
Does the company you keep expand, or diminish, your capacity to love?
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