As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Imagine that you walk into a pub one day. You look around and you see your parish priest or your pastor sitting at one of the tables. He has a drink in his hand - it could be apple juice or whiskey - you can’t tell. Sitting across from him is a very skimpily dressed woman who seems to be extremely flirtatious. What would you think? There is a good chance that most of you would believe the good padre is up to no good and start looking for another church. Why?
Because we believe that if anyone associates with someone we think has a bad reputation then that person must be doing things of bad repute too. Isn’t that true? Let’s be honest. So, if Jesus Christ were living in this world today, and he was sitting in that pub instead of the priest or the pastor, we would be as outraged as the learned Jews of his time were. Isn’t that right?
Which leaves us with a big problem. How do we save the “sinners”? Because if we can’t communicate with them, we can’t save them. And in order to communicate with them, we must associate with them. But if we associate with them, we will be thrown out of our own churches, because our churches don’t like sinners. Which is another big problem, because now everybody has to pretend that they are holy.
What the church needs today are people who are real, not pretenders. And people with the heart of a shepherd who care for those who are lost. Jesus had such a heart. Scripture speaks about how he was often moved to compassion for people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and how he did whatever he could to help them. And they flocked to him.
Even as we reflect upon these things today, let us also pray for a church filled with such people. Let us pray that we get hearts that welcome and not condemn those who are struggling in this terrible world, so that our churches once again become places of refuge for those who are lost and lonely, struggling and sad. Where people can find Jesus in all of us who say we believe in him.
Let us pray for this today believing that it will happen. And it will.