In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
"This man receives sinners and eats with them.” What the Scribes and Pharisees meant for evil, God meant for good. The Scribes and Pharisees were revolted by Jesus’ actions of welcoming tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and sinners of every stripe. He received them, ate with them, forgave them, loved them. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost—the Scribes and Pharisees included!—and that was exactly what He was doing, though some refused to hear His message. Despite them, He was living out the Father’s will that no one who repents be lost eternally.
So, why the resentment from the very people who should know better? In their minds, Jesus’ actions showed that He was condoning the sinners’ behavior, confirming them in their sin and allowing them to whatever they pleased. They hear things like Jesus saying to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you” but ignore the second half of His statement: “Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11). What the Pharisees missed, these sinners lived. They came to Jesus, not for a dismissal of their sin with the wave of a hand and the wink of “do whatever you want,” but for forgiveness, for the Divine gift of the ability to turn from sin, to live in a way that pleases God. They came because the preaching of the Law had cut them to the quick. They knew they needed the healing balm of the Gospel, the relief of conscience that only Jesus can give.
The Scribes and Pharisees hated this message of the Gospel, of forgiveness of sins, because they didn’t think they had anything to confess. They felt they had done everything necessary for salvation; they had earned it fair and square and those filthy sinners hadn’t. They didn’t need a Messiah, a Savior from sin. They kept the Law—their version of it, anyways—and didn’t need someone to do it for them. And on top of that, they never gave into baser passions of greed or sex or any of those other despicable, pedestrian sins, and because of that were far better than any of those sinners eating with Jesus.
Our first reaction to that description of the Pharisees is “Thank God I’m not like them!” We find ourselves in that bunch of misfit tax collectors and sinners, and are thankful that we’re better off than those miserable Pharisees. That line of thinking reveals our inner Pharisee! Sinners should be the most compassionate and empathetic towards fellow sinners, but time and time again we can be found looking down at our brothers and sisters struggling under the same burden of sin. We look at people and think “you get what you deserve!” We expect more of others than we do of ourselves. Any of our sins should be waved off, excusable, completely understandable given whatever personal and spiritual struggles we are having, but our neighbor deserves our sharpest criticism. They should know better!
We are no better than the Scribes and Pharisees. We are cancer patients waiting for chemotherapy looking down on the person next to us in the waiting room, suffering from the same disease, in need of the same treatment. If we were honest about our own sin, our own need for forgiveness, it would be reflected in how we treat others. Repent! See yourself for who you are—a sinner, a lost and condemned person, someone in desperate need of forgiveness from the Lord.
When Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost, it meant exactly that. He came to give forgiveness to repentant sinners. He is the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, the woman who searches every corner for the lost coin. He will stop at nothing to save you from sin, death, and the devil. But His action of finding, of calling out through the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel, is only half of His work. When He found the lost sheep, he laid it on His shoulders. He gladly bore the burden of that sheep, to bring it home to the place of endless great rejoicing. Jesus gladly, willingly bore the burden of your sin. He knew what weight that sin carried, but carried the cross on His shoulders and had His Body pierced and His Blood spilled to give His life in the place of yours. Your salvation means so much to Him that He was willing to endure all, even death, to save you.
And through Holy Baptism God has brought you into His fold. He created you. You are valuable to Him. He bought you with a price. The Blood of Jesus is worth more than silver and gold. You were expensive to purchase. But God doesn’t have buyer’s remorse, even when you sin and break His Commandments, even when you wander off into sin or find yourself in Pharisaic judgment. He continues to love you, to seek after you. That is why by His Holy Spirit He gathers you here week after week to hear the Word, to be forgiven, to be reassured of your eternal home, to be united with Him and all believers in Communion around the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. God does not look down on you or withhold Hid love and forgiveness. He seeks, He finds, He receives, and He rejoices.
“This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” This was meant to condemn Jesus, but it is one of the sweetest sentences in all of Scripture. Jesus is not ashamed to seek after you when you are lost. He is not ashamed to receive you. He is not ashamed to eat with you. He doesn’t do this begrudgingly, because He has to as a merciful God. He acts out of compassion and love. He seeks you, and when He finds you He rejoices, and calls all the angels to rejoice with Him as well. You are valuable to God, more so than sheep to a shepherd or money to a household. And because you are valuable to Him, redeemed by Him, He eats with you. Here you kneel shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow sheep and coins, receiving grace upon grace, the full forgiveness of all your sins and the promise of eternal life and the angels in heaven rejoice to see this. As long as the Lord preserves you in this body and life, here is your hope: Jesus seeks, receives, and redeems sinners.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).