Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
I understand sinners gathering around Jesus. Needy people. People who know they needed help. But tax collectors? Gang bangers? Street walkers? Why? To hear a teacher that was putting down the establishment? To hear someone unashamed and real giving voice to the injustice they saw up close and personal?
But weren’t these tax collectors working for the hated Romans themselves? Weren’t these unlovelies, unlovely through and through?
What about Jesus compelled them so? Was it his eyes? His smile? His laughter? Was it the way He looked at them without even a hint of judgment? Was it how He reached past the outside dregs and clothed them with, what? … a sense of dignity? How long had it been since they felt that?
Here he was, their own personal GOOD friend, a ‘hotshot’ that loved them. Laughing with them. Joking with them. Them, the hated ones. Them, the rejected ones.
Finally, the world was jealous of them … Jesus wanted to eat dinner with them. It wasn’t a publicity stunt. It wasn’t a put on. He was rubbing shoulders. He was spending time. Those that establishment said “mattered” were accusing Jesus of being a glutton and a drunk… But, they didn’t know. How could they know? They weren’t spending time with Him. He was hanging with them.
Love in action. Accepting. Welcoming. Willing to make room at the table. Making room for the questions that were sure to come:
“Why? What does He possibly see in me? Who am I that you could love me like this?
….What must I do to be saved?”
When Jesus found me, I was a feisty, down-and-dirty rebel. I was raw and ugly and desperately alone. But Truth found me, right in the mud and thick of things. He wasn’t afraid of my ugliness, nor put off by my hard questions. He didn’t flinch at my fists waiving at his face or turn in disgust at the sight of the maggots that ravaged my heart. He held me through my tantrums and followed me in my bolting.
And some days I wonder how I ever ended up in this boat whose captain is asleep so peacefully at the stern. But the truth is: someone who called Him Savior took the time to look beyond the brokenness, past the walls, past the fists, past the wounds that stunk of infection and death. One of His own was audacious enough to pray, to reach out their hand and touch the leprosy that riddled my heart. And then they helped me onto the boat to meet the One willing to take it all away with his eyes that loved and His word that spoke life, “Come.”
Jesus, I don’t want to see splinters through planks. I don’t want Glories and Alleluias if there are people dying around me that I’ve forgotten how to touch, or have grown too afraid to. I don’t want to forget the pus and infection that once permeated my heart or the questions that waved their fists in angry desperation. I don’t want to forget that You looked in my eyes with love and invited me to dinner.