by Kevin Burton
The questions we ask usually have their roots in our particular mindset, priorities and belief system.
We’ll see that today in part three of our Ten Questions from the Bible series.
Today’s question comes from the good old Pharisees, the most influential party in the Jewish court system in Jesus’s day. Probably not a more self-righteous bunch in all of scripture.
The question they asked of Jesus is recorded in the book of Matthew.
“As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.”
“And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9: 9-11 NKJV).
The Pharisees didn’t have the same priorities as Jesus. They didn’t appear capable or willing to see things any other way. They were all about appearances and perpetuating their power and authority in Israel. How would they look to the masses if they were seen with “sinners”? As people saw them what would they say to each other after they had passed out of earshot?
The Pharisees wanted to appear holy and didn’t want anyone of lesser reputation to stain their reputations. They were basically positioning their brand.
“To understand the significance of Jesus eating with sinners we need to look at those who hurled the complaint, the Pharisees and teachers of the law,” writes author Danielle Bernock on www.christianity.com. “These men were the religious leaders of that time and had created their own set of rules referred to as the tradition of the elders. According to them, eating with a sinner defiled them. This was just one of their rules Jesus violated.”
“The Pharisees claimed to adhere to the law of Moses as well as the tradition of the elders. By creating their own set of rules, they established themselves as righteous and all who didn’t comply were labeled sinners,” Bernock writes.
But Jesus exposed that lie, warning His followers not to follow the example of the Pharisees and identifying their true motivation, saying “But all their works they do to be seen by men,” (Matt. 23: 5 NKJV).
“After Jesus called Matthew to follow Him…Matthew held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’” Bernock writes.
“Jesus responds to the complaint with his core mission. Jesus ate with sinners because they were the ones He was sent to save,” Bernock writes.
Matthew records His response this way:
“When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’” (Matthew 9: 12-13 NKJV).
Jesus died on the cross, to save those sinners he ate with, the sinner who is typing this and everyone else. Before he ascended to heaven, he left us with a mandate to spread that good news.
To some degree though we are still judged on earth by the company we keep. Where does that leave us as New Testament believers today?
Mere proximity to non-believers does not defile us. The Pharisees had that wrong. But the ways and mindset of the world are in opposition to God and a potential danger to us.
That’s why Paul wrote “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans 12:2 NKJV). We are to take the light into all the world, to influence the world (Mark 16:15) without being corrupted by it. Open by the power of God do you and I have any hope of achieving this