Even as an adult, having had many years to develop my confidence and identity, I get a little twinge of fear when I think about stepping into a cafeteria, having gotten some food and needing to find a place to sit. Will there be anyone I know at the table? Will I learn that the seat that I sit down in was already saved for someone else, requiring me to awkwardly find another spot? Will some new people that I dare sit next to (for the first time) welcome me, or will I be an awkward, silent neighbor? Should I just sit by myself? Will there be enough room for me to do so without appearing that I’m encroaching on others’ space?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I could think this fast whenever I needed to, and not just when my ego is on the line?
It seems that Jesus, being a rabbi (not to mention God the Son), had the right in His society to invite Himself to others’ houses to eat (see Luke 19:5). Other times, He was invited by others (see John 2:1-2, and Matthew 9:10). Clearly, Jesus didn’t let fears like mine get in the way of His choices, though:
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?”
Matthew 9:10-11 NIV
To be clear, when Jesus was invited to Matthew’s house, He wouldn’t have been surprised to find other tax collectors there. After all, Matthew was literally at his tax collecting booth when Jesus had called him, so Matthew’s profession was obvious. And, given tax collectors’ lack of popularity in that day, Matthew’s friends would likely be other tax collectors (members of the same unpopular group).
Jesus also knew that He would be eating with people who had sinned.1 After all, paying the price for sinners’ redemption was His purpose for coming to earth in the first place! We might hide our bad choices behind a veneer of apparent righteousness (like certain people in Jesus’ day…and still today), but Jesus knows that we sin. He’s not shocked or caught off-guard when we do so.
However, Jesus didn’t make choices (those that could cause Him to be unpopular with certain groups) for no reason. He seems to have scorned the shame (see Hebrews 12:1-2) because there was something better to be achieved by His choice of fellow dinner guests.
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13 NIV
Whether you prefer to eat, have coffee, or watch a game with others, do you make the effort to do so with those who you can do the most good for? Or, do you select those who do the most good for you?
To be clear, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with spending time with our friends, especially those who share the same faith as us (and are bold enough to challenge us to strengthen our faith, along with the actions that follow). There is much benefit in this “recharging”, and Jesus spent plenty of time with His friends.
However, if we are to follow Jesus’ example, we won’t always spend our time with just those who have already managed to get their lives together. Sometimes, if we want to emulate Him, we will spend time with sinners. These aren’t just “saved sinners” (i.e., those who have repented of their bad choices as they follow Jesus, yet still sin sometimes), but those who are still “selling out” to sin and self, and who are intentionally making choices that don’t line up with God’s will (and everyone knows it).
Maybe it’s who you sit with in the cafeteria, or who you invite to dinner. Maybe it’s who you invite to watch a game (or match, bout, tournament, etc.) together. Maybe it’s who you sit in the break room and talk with. Maybe it’s who you visit – even if you don’t know them – in the hospital, assisted-living facility, or correctional facility. Maybe it’s just who you spend some time exchanging genuine e-mail or text messages with.
I’m pretty sure that most of us have recurring events in our lives that we like to spend with friends, but where we could invite others outside of our circle to join us. However, even if you don’t have any activities outside of church services, that doesn’t get you off the hook: Maybe you are called to just invite someone to sit with you at church (whether in the main service, or just in the lobby), especially one of those people who seem to be there alone, or have that look of uncertainty on their face (like me entering a lunchroom).
Because my own self-esteem is still more fragile than it should be, I like to ask a non-threatening question in these cases like, “Are you waiting for someone?”, or “Is there anything I can help you find?”. That way, if the person is already well-established with the congregation (which can be more difficult to know in larger congregations), neither I nor they suffer any embarrassment.
This is an example of Jesus (and a calling, if I read Matthew 28:19-20 in this context) that I personally have been challenged to do better at. I hope that you are inspired – by the words of God and the example of Jesus – to do so, as well. Let’s see if we can work on this, together!
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.
- I haven’t read it myself, but I am aware that there’s a book called, “Eats with Sinners”. If you’ve read it, won’t you let other readers know – via the comments – whether or not you found it to be Biblically sound and personally helpful? ↩