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Communion Meditations (2013)

Friend of Sinners

Originally scheduled for January 13

Matthew 11:19 NASB  "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."


Sins, it seems, come in a variety of categories.

·         There are several sins which are considered quite socially acceptable. Greed is always welcome when you call it “entrepreneurial spirit.” Stinginess does quite well when you call it thrift. Indeed, the human mind is quite good at this. It’s been known that a failure to evangelize has been called “preserving the character of our witness.”

·         Certain sins fall into a rather indeterminate category. In our time this is particularly true of sexual sin. For many of us, sexual sin is something that someone else does. We, on the other hand, appreciate the beauty of sex. So we are not sure whether or not sexual misconduct is really unacceptable sin.

·         We still have unacceptable sins. It is considered more than tacky to get yourself rip roaring drunk and drive home, only to run into somebody on the way. Drug addiction — particularly if you’re homeless — is also socially unacceptable.

Exactly which sins fall and what category has changed over time, but the idea that there are acceptable and unacceptable sins is a very ancient one. Jesus had to confront the same thing. We can tell which sins were socially unacceptable in his own time by the accusations made against him.

·         The most common one was that of gluttony. To put it quite simply, they felt that Jesus was a man who partied much too hearty — and with all the wrong people. As a matter fact, he seemed to regard his own presence as reason to throw a party. And on at least one occasion he invited himself to come. The man was a party animal.

·         The second one was that he had all the wrong friends. In those days the worst of friends to have was a tax collector — remember, they worked for the conquering Roman Empire. The IRS (at least in theory) works for us. A similar category was politely named “sinners.” You didn’t specify exactly what kind of sinners they were, because they were the sexual sort — and you might have to explain that to the kids. If you will recall, Jesus was merciful to the woman taken in adultery.

After the accusations we have this statement: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” It’s a shorthand way of saying that all the smart people of the time thought that Jesus was really stupid for doing this. His answer is simply this: look at the results. If you want sinners to repent, you have to talk to sinners. They’re not going to get it by osmosis. The truth is recorded; some of those sinners repented. One of those tax collectors was a fellow named Matthew, the author of the gospel of that name. It’s generally recorded that the socially unacceptable sinners loved the Man; the socially acceptable sinners turned their noses up at him.

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