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"By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, 'He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends....'" Luke 15:1-2 (The Message).
Strange that Jesus attracted the 'bad' and repelled the 'good' people! Can it be that He had a different way of evaluating people from the way we do? Certainly, the Pharisees did not see eye to eye with Him regarding the 'sinners' He considered His friends. Why were the Pharisees so incensed by His eating with the riff-raff?
Eating a meal with someone had great significance. The Hebrew word for a meal is shul, while the word derived from the root, shul, is shulkan, which means 'table', 'reconciliation' or ‘a lamb’s skin’. The imagery is beautiful. Where there was no table, they would put a lamb’s skin on the ground as a ‘picnic’ blanket. A lamb had to die for them to eat together. Therefore, to eat a meal with someone meant that you had no issues with that person. You had settled your differences and were now reconciled.
No wonder the Pharisees were upset with Jesus for eating with prostitutes and tax collectors! They did not understand the heart of a merciful and compassionate Messiah. Their idea of 'holiness' was isolation from people. Jesus' holiness separated Him from sin but not from sinners. Yes, God is holy, but He is holy-love. His holiness demands perfection, but His love provides the covering so that we can be reconciled and become His true friends.
The Pharisees regarded themselves as their own standard and they despised everyone who did not live up to their criteria. Jesus offended them because He was not fazed by those they regarded as 'sinners'. He saw beyond their exterior to hearts that were hungry for God and were willing to listen to Him and who drank in His love and His message of mercy.
Are we any different? Do we not judge people by their appearance, their social standing, their financial position, their neighbourhood, their achievements, and even their speech and accent? These are only the circumstances of their lives, not the evidence of their intrinsic value as human beings made in the image of God.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to follow, learn from, imitate and obey our Master. This is an absolute prerequisite for discipleship. One function not entrusted to us is judgment and yet we assume the role of judge for everyone who does not measure up to our value system or self-proclaimed standards. This is dangerous for two reasons; firstly because we have usurped the role that belongs to Jesus alone and, secondly, because the standard we set for others is the standard by which we will be judged.
When we carefully consider the last statement, it should make us tremble because our standards for others are always so much stricter than our standards for ourselves. God's justice is perfectly just. It is always based on what we choose. Yes, God has objective standards of right and wrong based on who He is, but He gives us exactly what we choose, whether it be obedience to His way or our own way. He knows where each way will end.
The way of the Pharisees with their hoity-toity self-righteousness took them farther and farther from the heart of God and deeper and deeper into the kind of sin that alienated them from God and people. No amount of rebuke or exposure shifted them from their arrogant pride. Not even Jesus could reach their hardened hearts.
God's word is faithful to warn us of the attitude that thinks we are right and everyone else wrong. When we look at people through the eyes of Jesus, we see, not the sin that scars their souls but the beauty of our Creator God who has packed the potential in each one of us to become a mirror image of Him.
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