Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Since Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” the words we hear from Jesus today are among the best news in the Bible... it’s Good News, indeed!
The story’s told of a minister who came up with an interesting way to share his faith. He had a “one-of-kind” tee shirt designed and printed up... The message on the tee shirt was printed in Greek... taken from various verses in the Gospels. In English, it read, “He eats and drinks with sinners.”
The minister would wear the tee shirt into grocery stores... football games... restaurants... pubs. Knowing full well that curiosity alone would cause someone to ask what the shirt meant... and that would usually provoke follow-up questions... like “Who eats and drinks with sinners?” The answer, of course, is “Jesus.” Which would lead to a full blown conversation... and an invitation to join with other sinners at church on Sunday!
In our lesson for today... Jesus called Matthew out of the tax collector’s office to be his disciple. Matthew seemed a rather unlikely disciple, to tell you the truth. Tax collectors, as I’m sure you’re aware, were not the most popular people back then... in fact... they were pretty much despised and hated... no exaggeration.
And being a Jew... when Matthew chose to become a Tax Collector he was pretty much seen as a traitor... as someone who’d given up his religious heritage to “get rich” at the expense of other Jews. Jews were forbidden to serve the Roman government, and handling Roman taxes violated ritual purity laws. So anytime you read (or hear) the phrase “tax collectors and sinners” in the Gospels, you know it’s a reference to the “lowest of the low” - the greatest, or worst, of sinners.
And imagine: Jesus sat down, and ate with such... he dined with the “worst of sinners.”
Of course, sharing a meal with someone is a fairly obvious indication of a relationship. We don’t usually just up and sit down to eat with people we don’t know! It’s happens, of course... but it’s the exception, rather than the rule. When we sit down to eat, we usually do so with family or friends or acquaintances.
Those in the business world will “do lunch” with co-workers or business partners or clients... in the hope of building a relationship that’s profitable and fruitful.
When you were dating... or during courtship... one of the very first things you usually do... is go “out-to-eat.” In fact, the relationship’s probably NOT going very far unless the couple begins to share meals with each other. There’s just something about sharing meals together that builds relationships, and fosters relationships! And when you’re married that doesn’t change... you still need to “date” - and many times those “dates” involve sitting down to eat... building and maintaining your relationship.
Back when I was growing up... Sunday dinner was a big deal in my family. My mother and/or grandmother would spread the table with meats and fresh vegetables and salads. Sometimes there would be cake or pie... hot rolls or corn bread. And... sweet tea... always sweet tea. There was enough to feed an army! And with aunts, uncles and cousins around... it sometimes felt like an army had eaten... especially when it came to washing the dishes.
But it was also clear that much more than just eating was going on at those Sunday Dinners. Family gatherings around food... meals shared together... always provided a time to belong... a time to share the stories of life... a time to build and maintain relationships... and to declare who belongs at the table...
Jesus ate with sinners! I hope you haven’t missed the significance of that simple statement! Because in a very powerful way, it defines who Jesus thought belonged at His table.
Of course, the fact is... Christ is still eating (still building relationships) with sinners today. Every time you and I gather in this place, this church, this sanctuary... to hear the “Bread of Life” - the Word of God - opened and shared... we partake in the Feast of the Lord as redeemed sinners who’ve gathered to be fed and sustained. Jesus himself said, “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Every Second Sunday, as we gather around the Communion table... we’re reminded that Christ died for us... as sinners... and in spite of our sin... Christ invites to come, take, and remember who and Whose we are. Jesus gave his life to prepare the communion meal for us because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And when we take the bread, we remember. When we take the cup, we remember.
Most every Third Sunday when we gather around the tables in Davis Hall... we do so as a family of faith. Brothers and Sisters who walk the path of life, together... gathering in the ritual of a shared meal where bonds of love and respect and faith are strengthened...
Of course, today being Father’s Day, many of us arrived early for breakfast instead of lunch. But after church, restaurants will be packed as we gather with family and friends, to enjoy a meal... while building on our relationships, and expressing the essence of what it means to be a family.
It’s no wonder Jesus ate with sinners. Of course, the fact of the matter is, IF Jesus had chosen NOT to eat with sinners... he would have surely dined alone!
And that act of love and acceptance has consequences us... and for those sinners who haven't yet made it to the meal. Our lesson ends with Jesus saying to the righteous... or more accurately, the self-righteous, those who didn’t see themselves as “sinners” - the Pharisees... “I desire mercy, not sacrifice... for I have NOT come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
He quoted the prophet Hosea. In Hosea 6:6, God says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Which goes “hand in hand” with so many of the hard teachings of Jesus... like loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself... or turning the other cheek... or going the extra mile... forgiving... or those without sin casting the first stone.
And speaking of casting stones: when Jesus encountered the woman caught in the act of adultery, he said to her accusers (after scribbling something, we’re not told what, in the sand), “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone...” and they all walked away, leaving only Jesus and the sinful woman. Jesus then asked, “Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one...” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I... NOW go and sin no more.” Jesus clearly calls sinners to leave their life of sin... and that’s a little fact that we so often choose to leave out!
The truth is... Jesus is calling us take what we’ve learned from him... as we gather around his table, and as we feed on the bread of life... and to share it with those around us... to include others in the family of faith... while being reminded ourselves that we still have work to do! Will we always get it right? NO! Will we continue to sin and fall short? YES!
But that’s precisely why we need to keep coming to the table... to remember... to be encouraged... to strive towards the high calling of Christ that’s always just beyond our reach... yet securely in the arms of Christ.
When we come to that knowledge, that acceptance, that reality... we’ll come to pour out the love, mercy and grace of God on the pain of this world we live in. To make room at the table for others... for the lost, lonely and rejected. To do unto others, what Christ has done for us.