Jesus had been walking through Capernaum. He saw Matthew at the tax collector’s booth and called him to follow. Matthew responded positively, and invited both his past circle of friends and his newfound friend Jesus to a meal. “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’?”
The Pharisees were the religious authorities of His day. They ‘see’ Jesus behavior. Whether that was by witness of sight that same day or by word of mouth later we are not told, but we do understand that they took note. Not only did they take note – they took offence. “The Pharisaic approach to being pure before God involved active separation from sinners.” It bothered them that a man who felt he had something to say in a synagogue (and so teach others about God) would at the same time break bread with known sinners.
Of course, Jesus undoubtedly knew that having a meal with sinners will be seen as a provocative move on His part. He knows that some will say that He is debasing Himself by breaking bread with the ungodly, and is therefore unfit to be followed. Others will disastrously conclude that His presence among sinners condones sinful behavior. There are many conclusions to jump to if you do not understand His mission.
Yet Jesus doesn’t seek to head off any wrong conclusions by onlookers or questions by recognized religious leaders. He does not pause to first inform those who see what he’s about to do or give a lecture on what His mission is and how best to go about it. He simply goes in and eats at the celebration with Matthew and friends, and leaves the Pharisees and onlookers to their own thoughts.
Jesus knows that saving the lost isn’t pretty work – getting close to sinners always seems like a moral comprise to those who pride themselves on their own self-righteousness. But it is a work the truly righteous know is worthy of the cost of one’s reputation. Eternal souls are worth so much more than a passing thought of affirmation in the minds of the proud, and light shines all the brighter in the dark.
The challenge for the believer is to imitate Jesus. To not to shirk away from having a beer with the guys or an opportunity to sit down and eat with a Muslim neighbour. Rather, to have the spiritual maturity to be intentional in every situation about letting others see Christ in you – wherever you are, whenever you can. To be more confident in our identity before God than we are in our identity before others. We must place a priority on shining the light of Christ into the darkness others are trapped in, and at the same time not let that darkness push its way deeper into ourselves and darken our own souls.
Make no mistake – this is the front line of the spiritual war. Not only the war for others, but the war to keep you from maturing as a disciple. Sacrificing one’s reputation so that others can know Him is but the first round of rifle fire in that war.
Love would have its object worthy of itself. It will sacrifice reputation for God, with whom our reputation is safe, by condescending to the low for his benefit.Henry D.M.S. Jones
To save the lost, we must go to where the lost are. We must go to where the Gospel is not preached. We must go to where the light shines not so brightly. For that is where the lost are.