“I lost my job, and I need money for a hotel room tonight with my kids. I’m only lacking forty dollars. Can you help?”
I turned around and saw a man who was a little scraggly, yet clearly in need. His eyes pleaded for help and support. I was moved in my heart, and so I reached into my wallet and gave him some cash. I kept walking, heading back to the apartment I stayed in while serving with the North American Mission Board in Portland.
Two months passed by and I was headed with a few members of the team to get some food in downtown Portland. While waiting for the train, a man approached me. He tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I lost my job, and I need money for a hotel room tonight with my kids. I’m only lacking forty dollars. Can you help?” I was filled with frustration when I realized that this was the exact same man I had given some cash to earlier in the summer. Now, there is obviously the chance that this was an actual coincidence where the need and amount happened to be the same. Yet in all likelihood this was a well-rehearsed line that I fell for previously in the summer. I declined to give him cash and stepped on my train.
Fast-forward to my time here in Vernon, and I have found myself confronted by the gospel of Mark yet again this week. I have been confronted by the fact that this unnamed man who conned me was the very type of character that Jesus would have come to save and heal. Look with me at the following passage:
And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:14-17
This passage confronts what I am prone to believe about church community, while also affirming that which I have been outspoken about in the way of fighting sin.
First, Jesus calls a tax collector to be one of his closest disciples. These men were the worst of the worst when it comes to conning their own people financially, while also robbing them blind for the Roman government which was the governing power over the people of God. Yet not only does He call Matthew (Levi), he chooses to recline and enjoy the table with him.
This is a powerful point for there is a humongous difference between me calling someone to follow Jesus and choosing to share the intimacy of a meal with them. It is shameful and disdainful when I am willing to call someone to follow Christ yet refuse (consciously or subconsciously) to be associated with them in such a way. Shame on me for the times that I have done this.
It’s hard to live as Jesus lived. It’s hard to be as unconcerned with the opinions of men as He was. It’s easy to love our fellow Sunday school attenders while neglecting those who are new to our church community. The reality is that the rule Jesus appeared to live by was that if He called you into God’s will, God’s design, the good news of the gospel, then He was calling you into an intimate relationship with Him (see Mark 3:31-35, when Jesus calls those who follow God His family).
So if I am to live as Jesus lived, then I should (with much discipline, help from the Spirit, and grace) be able to open my life up to the point where if I preach to you from the pulpit then I should be willing to eat with you around the table. Regardless of race, economic status, political viewpoint, or hobbies. It’s way too easy to commune with those who are essentially just mirror images of yourself. Jesus calls us to a wider and thus deeper community.
We live in a world of division. This is common knowledge at this point. It is into this space that Jesus calls His followers to be different. Now, let me be clear, Jesus communing with sinners was not a condoning of the sinful behavior of these men and women. I believe that is clear when He says He came as a Physician who is calling these men and women out.
Again, Jesus did not condone sinful behavior by communing with those who were engaged in that sinful behavior. That’s a huge lesson for me to learn. I have often equated association with affirmation (although there is a subtle danger there, and Scripture does speak to this danger), yet Jesus knew that calling people into discipleship started by being willing to be associated with them in intimate ways.
So as followers of Christ, let us be men and women who not only call people into repentance, but who are also willing to be relationally involved with those whom we are calling.
Preach the gospel.
But also share a table.
In His Name,