ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH JESUS?
When the teachers of the Law who were Pharisees saw (Jesus) eating with the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
Religion does strange things to people. Religious people are aware of how ‘good’ they are and how ‘bad’ other people are who are not like them. That’s because their ‘goodness’ depends on how well they keep the rules of their religion. They separate themselves from the people who don’t keep the rules as well as they do.
Jesus didn’t care about rule-keeping because rule-keeping made people proud. Jesus cared more about people being friends with Him. It didn’t matter to Him if they did not keep the rules. He knew that being friends with Him would teach them how to become like Him, loving, caring and merciful to all people.
In the story from which this verse is quoted, Jesus had called Matthew, a tax collector, to follow Him. Matthew was rich from the money he had made people pay him, over and above the taxes he collected for Rome. The Jews hated him because he took their money, and they could not stop him. He didn’t care about keeping the rules of their religion, but when Jesus called him, he left everything to follow Him.
Matthew invited his friends, the ones who were just like him, to have dinner with him. He also invited Jesus and His disciples, and they happily ate together and felt very comfortable. The Pharisees saw what was happening and criticised Jesus for eating with the ‘bad’ people, the ones who broke the rules. Jesus was a rabbi, a religious teacher, and they felt that He should know better. Eating with ‘sinners’ would make Him ‘unclean’; their rule-breaking would contaminate Him and that would be bad for a rabbi.
Why were the tax collectors and rule-breakers comfortable with Jesus? He did not judge, criticise, or condemn them. He accepted them just as they were. He loved them despite their sin because they were people made in God’s image. He could see the possibilities in them if they learned to follow His ways. If he judged them, they would not come to Him. He didn’t have to tell them they had done wrong, but He also knew that they could change if He became their friend. He listened to them, and they listened to Him.
Jesus was comfortable with them because they didn’t try to hide their sin from Him. They didn’t pretend to be what they were not. The Pharisees and religious people also had wicked hearts, but they hid behind their rule-keeping. Jesus knew they were selfish and greedy even though they tried to hide it from Him. He could see through their hypocrisy, and they hated Him for that. Jesus knew that all people were separated from God because of their sin. By eating with them, He was saying that God was okay with them and that He wanted to be reconciled to them.