Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one.
There’s a little old Christian lady living next door to an atheist. Every morning the lady comes out onto her front porch and shouts “Praise the Lord!”.
The atheist yells back, “There is no God“.
She does this every morning with the same result. As time goes on, the lady runs into financial difficulties and has trouble buying food. She goes out onto the porch and asks God for help with groceries, then says “Praise the Lord“.
The next morning she goes out onto the porch and there’s the groceries she asked for, and of course, she shouts “Praise the Lord!!!”
The atheist jumps out from behind a bush and says, “Ha, I bought those groceries – there is no God“.
The lady looks at him and smiles, she shouts “Praise the Lord, not only did you provide for me Lord, you made Satan pay for the groceries!!”
It’s said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. We see in our Gospel lesson that He even worked in ways no one might have predicted. Instead of calling the righteous, He called on the flawed, the weak and the lost to follow Him. Instead of coming in thunder to overthrow the evil Romans, He came sharing the message of love for one’s enemies. Instead of limiting Himself to speaking in synagogues and safe spaces, He went to where the sinners gathered, even sitting down to dine with those considered the worst of the worst.
In those days, sitting down to share an evening meal meant much more than it does today. To be invited meant that you were considered to be a part of the family. It’s no wonder, then, that the Pharisees were concerned.
Sitting down with tax collectors and sinners? What was He thinking? In Luke 15:2 its more descriptive saying, “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, this man receives sinners and eats with them.” Ewwww!
You see, their problem had nothing to do with reaching the lost, it had everything to do with Jesus Christ giving His time to people of lesser value in their eyes. “They are not Sons of Abraham, they are degenerate sinners. No one should associate with sinners, they were to be cast out of the church and ostracized.” Aren’t you glad Jesus changed the rules?
From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus is setting a precedent. We read in our Gospel lesson that Jesus said in verses 12-13, “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 came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus’ call to repentance is not required for those who have no sin. His call is for all of those who understand their sin and are determined to make a change in their lives to separate themselves from that sin and strive, instead, for righteousness.
The Pharisees had the wrong impression that their birthright was righteousness because of who they were on the outside. Jesus came to tell them that it was the sinful heart within them that needed the most attention. It was the corrupted soul that He came to purify.
Earlier, in Chapter 9, Jesus finds Himself with a paralytic. Seeing the Paralytics faith He said to the man, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” This was too much for the scribes who were listening. To them it was blasphemy. Who forgives sins but God alone?
Jesus hears their thoughts and says, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Rise and walk?”
As those who follow Scripture know, upon instruction to do so, the lame man took up the bed he was lying on and went home praising, no doubt, the God who had just healed him.
In a room full of people, He uses this opportunity to make His point. It is not someone who comes from a certain family or heritage that He came to save. Jesus came to put sin to shame. He came to overthrow something much more powerful and damaging than even the mighty Romans. Jesus came to save sinners, no matter their sin, no matter their checkered past, no matter what family or history they came into life with. And all He required was their faith.
It’s the same conditions we find ourselves in. Despite our failings, Jesus promises to all the faithful, forgiveness in the asking. Are you a tax collector? Come to Jesus. Are you an addict? Come to Jesus. Are you sexually attracted to the same sex? Come to Jesus. Have you done something in your past that separated you from God? Come back to Jesus. Our Savior is calling all sinners to come to Him and find their rest. He is inviting us all to the only kind of freedom that ultimately matters, the freedom from sin and death.
In discussions I’ve had with others in the past, the topic has come up about where Jesus would be if He came again. Would we find Him on some golden throne with eyes filled with lightning? Would He be unapproachable because of the glory He possesses? Or would He be the same loving, caring Savior we read about in Scripture?
Would we find Him in a church or downtown among the addicts and mentally struggling living in tents along the road. If I were to guess, I would think that Jesus would be more likely found among the lost looking for a Savior then with those of us who already know the truth. In fact, He would wish us all to join Him in bringing hope to the hopeless. His words to us would be the same as those He initially called, “Follow Me.”
When Jesus called His disciples it is said that they immediately followed. They didn’t weigh the pros and cons. They didn’t wait for a more opportune time. No, they immediately dropped everything to follow Him.
Among them was a tax-collector, Matthew, seen by most as an enemy at best. His reputation was as one who cheated his own people, who paid allegiance to the people who held the Jews captive. Surely this curse of his own making would disqualify him from discipleship. Yet, Jesus said, “follow me” and He immediately left everything he knew to do so.
But Jesus wasn’t satisfied with reaching just one tax-collector, He wanted to save more, plus any other sinners that cared to listen. Baring the safety of a synagogue, He instead goes at once to the battlefield.
So why were the Pharisees so indignant? Because, through their education, they had been blinded by the law. Grace wasn’t even a word in their vocabulary. Only strict adherence to a law, mostly developed by man, could save Israel from their sins. Sympathy for sinners had no place in their idea of righteousness. To them, sinners were to be avoided at all costs. If they wanted to die in their own sins, that was their problem.
So, when Jesus came, claiming the title of Rabbi but teaching about love and not condemnation, they were beside themselves. To them He was a menace, an arrogant vagrant who thought He knew more than the greatest teachers of His time. How dare He come and shake everything from its foundations. How dare He fight sin with love and not hate.
They hated Him because He came bearing a different message. The Apostle Paul lays it out in Romans 8:1-4, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Hopefully now we all know that God’s message of love and not hate toward sinners has found itself to be the greatest victory. His message of unselfish sacrifice bringing about forgiveness has done more to change the world than anything else in human history and this is not hyperbole.
Later on in Matthew 20:26-28 Jesus paints a picture of how He wishes for others to see him saying, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus didn’t come to glorify Himself, He came to save sinners by being a servant to all. Still today, He doesn’t want us to shout our praises because He has an ego that needs to be primed. He wants us to shout our praises to the one who taught us all to be servants to our fellowman and not slaves to sin.
Raise your hand if you’re a sinner. If you have your hand raised, Jesus came to call you to something greater. Just because you are a sinner doesn’t mean you have to live a life of separation from God. Jesus died and rose again for the same reason that He dined with tax-collectors and sinners, to show that salvation is possible even for those who have not lived up to God’s expectations.
We all suffer from the sickness of our sinful natures. It is for us that Jesus came to bring healing. To be honest, we all could have well sat at the table that Jesus chose to be a part of that day, we’re certainly qualified under the criteria of sinners. Yet, Jesus chooses us also to break bread with, not so much to make Him a part of our family but to make us a part of His.
His work in us has only begun and He simply asks that we believe. He has more places for us to see and more things for us to do, but His message is clear, we must first put our whole trust and faith in Him to take us to the places He has prepared in advance for us to be.
Jesus came to save sinners of which you and I claim a membership. If your beating yourself up about something you’ve done of which God did not approve, Jesus died and rose again so that you might be given another chance. If your faith life has struggled to find its footing, Jesus invites you to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean in your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Jesus came to save you and to help you tear down the walls that separate you from Him. Don’t be satisfied any longer by what the world can offer you. Trust in the one who came to save you, even though you at times have been lost in your sins. A better life awaits you. So good, in fact, that Jesus sacrificed Himself so that you could enjoy it. Calling all sinners! Jesus invites you to the table. Amen.