My morning gospel reading brought me to Luke 15. A familiar chapter recounting the Lord’s heart for the lost, the section begins by describing the context. My mind and heart never moved far beyond the first two verses. Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
How scandalous! You can hear them muttering under their breath. Who does this upstart itinerant “teacher” think he is? Just look at the company he keeps; that should tell you all you need to know about him. He doesn’t shun sinners as a good law abiding Jew should. No, he lays out a welcome mat for them, He even breaks bread with them! Why would anyone listen to someone who so blatantly breaks the law? Yet, that’s exactly what swarms of people were flocking to do – to hear him teach.
When I read that, several questions came to mind. Where are the flocks of sinners gathering to hear what we have to say as the church today? Why are so many running away from the church today? What was it about Jesus that drew broken and needy people near to listen to him?
Certainly, part of the problem is that many sinners today don’t consider themselves broken and needy. Convinced they aren’t sick (sinners), they aren’t clamoring for a Savior. To the contrary; many resent being called sinners. No wonder so few are straining to listen to the good news.
But I have to wonder. Could another reason sinners are not gathering around to hear us be that we don’t love them the way Jesus did? People aren’t stupid. They saw the eye-rolling of the holy rollers – the Pharisees. They felt their condescending stares boring down and brow-beating them with holier-than-thou condemnation. Contrasting that was the love and mercy shown by Jesus. Do we convey the heart of a Pharisee when we communicate with lost people?
Ultimately, Jesus offered hope, a real solution. He didn’t add to their burden like the Pharisees who, tie[d] up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves were not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matt. 23:4). No. Jesus offered relief and rest for the weary. Come to me, he implored, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-29).
So why were the crowds flocking to hear Jesus? Because, unlike the self-righteous Pharisees who only piled on more guilt, Jesus picked up their heavy load. He told them the truth, which is hard to hear, but his tone was humble. He gave them medicine to heal their sin-sick souls, but he administered it with gentleness.
I wonder, in what ways are we more like the Pharisees than Jesus? How can we be more like Jesus? I don’t know the full answer to that, but I do believe it begins with love. Lost people matter to God – do they really matter to us? Do we love them, truly love those who are different from us? Do we authentically care about arrogant atheists, angry homosexual activists, and progressive liberals who want to take away our Christian liberties? Do we love them, or are we too busy trying to defeat them at the ballot box? Are we secretly hoping God will judge them, vindicating and freeing us from their evil influence on our families?
Have we forgotten? God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We don’t deserve his love. We’re part of the lost people who matter to God!
Thank you for your extravagant grace and mercy, Father, toward lost a lost sinner like me. Continue to grant me a heart like yours, that beats for the bruised and broken. May your life in me be magnetic to those who need the message of hope in Jesus.