Who are the “notorious sinners” today? (Brennan Manning and his friends don’t count, by the way.)
In the time of Jesus, one group of “notorious sinners” would have been the tax collectors (Matthew 9:9-13). It’s kind of hard to relate how much people hated them. We don’t love the IRS in America, but calling them “notorious sinners”? Goes a bit far, right?
Well, a tax collector wasn’t just taking money from the Jewish people in order to build them roads and schools. Their tax money was being collected for oppressive Roman rulers and puppet governors. Their money financed palaces and ports that primarily benefitted the most wealthy. As if their betrayal of their nation wasn’t bad enough, they were often skimming a little extra for themselves. The tax collectors represented exploitation and oppression. They were the daily reminder to the Jewish people of their captivity in their own land.
To make matters more sinspirational, it’s likely that most tax collectors weren’t “Law abiding” Jews. They may well have kept company with sexually immoral characters—the exact kinds of people an observant Jew would want to avoid. They represented a blight on the land of Israel, a shameful pocket of sin that could prevent God from blessing them.
They were ostracized from religious gatherings in every way possible, not that they would be all that eager to hang out with people who hated them and blamed them for potentially incurring the wrath of God on their nation. If there was one thing a God-fearing, law abiding rabbi knew at the time of Christ, it’s this simple practice: AVOID NOROTIOUS SINNERS… especially tax collectors.
In fact, Jesus did such a terrible job of avoiding “notorious sinners,” that he squeezed a dinner party invitation out of them.
By the time Jesus settled down for a meal with the tax collectors and other sinners, the religious authorities of the day were livid. How could a heaven-sent Messiah spend time with the very same people who were drawing the wrath of God down on their nation?
We’ve come a long way since then. Haven’t we?
Who are the notorious sinners today?
If you ask most Christians, we often jump right to sexual sins. Sure greed, fraud, and gluttony are bad, but if you want to rise to the status of “notorious sinner,” sex is the surefire way to go. If you ask most Christians in America, they will most likely say…
Sex outside of marriage is bad.
Sex outside of marriage while married to someone else is super bad.
Sex with someone of the same gender is extra, super, terribly bad—notoriously bad.
And whether or not one considers same sex relationships super sinful or not (I’m not trying to attach labels or argue), we can all agree that conservative Christians would label LGBT individuals as “notorious sinners” or plain old “sinners”? (depending on your translation). In fact, some view LGBT folks as so notoriously sinful that they can’t bear to bake them cakes, host their weddings, or take their pictures.
The more “notorious” the sin, the greater the need to share a meal together.
Sorry. It’s in the Bible. It’s filed under “Love your neighbor.”
And it’s not just a matter of having “notorious sinners” over for dinner in order to brow beat them.
The “sinners” in Matthew 9 invited Jesus over. They were having a great time with him. It was going so well that the Pharisees fumed about it. In fact, his acceptance of these sinners was one of the main reasons why they “unfollowed” Jesus.
There are things Jesus asks us to do that are really tough.
Visiting prison inmates can be time-consuming. All of the volunteer training and travel took a bite out of my schedule. It was also hard to know how much I could trust certain guys who struck me as pretty smooth talkers.
Providing shelter for the homeless is really expensive and also time-consuming. It requires a real investment in people. One of my former churches tried to help people find shelter, and it was extremely difficult to find a housing solution for people in dire financial straights.
Visiting the sick can be difficult if you have panic attacks in a hospital like me, and it’s hard to be reminded that you too will one day most likely suffer from a life-ending illness and pass away slowly into eternity. It’s kind of a downer really.
Out of all of the things that Jesus asks us to do, this is the low hanging fruit of Christian living.
Step one, find people who are ostracized by the religious establishment as “notorious sinners.”
Step two, hang out as equals.
Step three, share a meal.
I don’t know who has been labeled a “notorious sinner” in your community, but whether folks are LGBT or they’re Christians discriminate against people based on sexual orientation, it’s time to have more dinner parties.
It’s an example from Jesus that is so simple and obvious, it’s possible that we just may overlook it.
For more about this topic, see…