Do you crave attention, or avoid it? If we stop to think about it, there are different kinds of attention, some of which we value, and other types that we would rather not experience. For me, the “good” kinds of attention would include a server’s conscientious attendance to our table at a restaurant, someone laughing at my jokes, and the fact that God is always listening to me. Conversely, “bad” attention (at least for me) might include getting mentioned by name for a mistake in a large group, getting called on in class when I wasn’t paying attention, and getting swarmed by other people with questions when I am ready for a break.
When the vast scope and inclusiveness of Jesus’ message starts to become clear – when we genuinely reach out to people with grace and truth in unconditional love, in Jesus’ name – it attracts attention. That’s not new, since Jesus’ original message attracted attention to Him, too.
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
Just as in this account here, one kind of attention that Jesus’ message attracts is that people become interested. People who thought that no one cared about them want to hear more about Jesus (who loves them deeply). People who are unpopular want to get to know a God who calls them special. People on the fringes of society join in with others who are finding a community of shared salvation.
It sounds like Jesus’ calling of Matthew (in the chronicle that this same Matthew wrote, chapter 9), attracted this sort of attention, with a bunch of people joining Matthew and Jesus for dinner. These weren’t just any guests, though; they were people whose life choices were frowned upon by the religious leaders. Probably a lot of them wouldn’t be welcome at a typical family’s table for a meal today, either.
I can only imagine the motley crew that might have been gathered around that table: rich tax collectors that nobody liked, maybe thieves, prostitutes, and non-religious people? Jesus, who was popular and – as a rabbi – highly-esteemed in that culture, welcomed those who sought to learn and be healed. What a great example this dinner would have been of the diversity of people who can be welcomed out of their isolation and into the Kingdom of God!
Unfortunately, when Jesus’ love for everyone starts to reach out to “undesirable” members of society, this attracts another kind of attention. What do people do when you welcome the social outcasts, the sell-outs, and the sinners? They start to criticize.
That’s exactly what happened here. Jesus ate with those who were not welcome in other circles, and He doesn’t seem to have expressed even the slightest concern about their popularity, their past, or their professions.
Today, we still have “undesirable” people groups, in the eyes of some. In fact, in today’s polarized and contentious society, that probably includes everyone (since someone’s going to dislike you, regardless of your choices). There are still people who are alone (or lonely, even in a group). There are still people who don’t get to hear good news from others, or have the chance for someone who really cares about them to listen to their story. It might take a little more work to find these people (because they aren’t in the spotlight, or at the front of the line), but they are welcome in the Kingdom of God that Jesus ushered in.
So, if you are ready to share the good news about Jesus Christ, that is a noble and loving thing to do. However, don’t limit yourself to those who are just like you, and don’t shy away from those who don’t fit in. Think about those people who aren’t likely to be invited to a table any time soon (unless someone shows Jesus’ love to them), and show them what Jesus is really like. That’s the bold example that followers of Jesus are called to.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for April 11, 2021
- Christian Standard, Volume CLVI, Number 4, pages 85-86. © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- 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.
- The College Press Commentary, Matthew, by Larry Chouinard. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997, p.167-174.