Sitting Down with the Sinners
In today’s sermon, I take a look at what it means to truly be merciful and why it is so integral when it comes to the Christian faith.
How does sitting down with sinners sound to you? Many of us would believe that doing such a thing would be a big “no-no” for the Christian. Some believe that in doing so, we will corrupt ourselves. Sinners are, therefore treated like lepers by some who call themselves believers – stay far away. Thankfully, there was One who did not mind sitting down at the table with sinners.
Throughout this week, God continued to direct my eyes, my hands, and my thoughts towards scripture that focused primarily on one subject: mercy. I was in Proverbs and came across the proverb that says (Prov. 21:13), “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be heard.” As I prepared a future bible study, the Beatitude (Matt. 5:7), “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy,” jumped out at me.
You will find throughout scripture that mercy is of great significance to the Lord. If mercy is of great significance to the Lord, that means it is integral to all of us. So, in today’s sermon, I want to take a look at Jesus sitting down with the sinners, and what it truly means to be merciful.
Jesus sits down with the sinners
Jesus, in this passage of scripture, calls Matthew (the writer of this gospel and disciple of Christ) to follow Him (Matt. 9:9). Matthew humbly makes light of this occasion whereas the other gospels actually tell us some finer details about Jesus sitting at the table and eating with sinners (Matt. 9:10). In both Mark and Luke’s gospel, we are given Matthew’s Hebrew name – Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). We are told in both gospels that this event took place at Levi’s house (Mark 2:15; Luke 5:29).
Luke tells us that this was a great feast. He says (Luke 5:29), “there were a great number of tax collectors and others (sinners) who sat down with them.” In my opinion, this is one of the greatest lessons we see in our faith (Christianity) – Jesus fellowshipping with sinners!
What makes this such a special occasion is who Jesus is sitting with. Tax collectors were not looked on highly (kindly) by the people; the people felt that the tax collectors robbed them. In prayer, one Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). So, because they were not thought of highly in society, the tax collectors were considered sinners.
In that society, if you were sick (disabled) or poor, you were often thought to be suffering from committing some sin. The woman who was caught in the act of adultery, she was certainly treated as a sinner. There was a certain type of woman who washed washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears at another dinner that was also considered a sinful woman (Luke 7:36-39).
I’m not saying all of those types of folks were at this particular feast, but I want to give you an idea of who was thought to be a “sinner”. We know for a fact that tax collectors (perceived sinners) – several of them – were sitting and dining. Then, we are simply told that other sinners (other perceived sinners) had sat down to dine. (I say perceived because we don’t truly know their hearts, right?)
Also under Matthew’s roof and dining at his table are Jesus’ disciples and Christ Himself! Jesus, by this point in time, had a popularity that was just starting to get off the ground. He had already gotten caught in the eyes of the Pharisees who looked on this with great displeasure (Matt. 9:11; Luke 5:30).
Religious one’s displeasure
The Pharisees, unlike the tax collectors, were viewed highly in that society. These men were considered to be the religious leaders in that day. So, being the religious leaders that they were, they had an image to uphold! They were very strict in the following of the Mosaic Law and were certainly strict in the upholding of their traditions – in other words, they were very religious men.
In their religious ways, they would never be caught sitting and dining with who Jesus was now dining with. They ask the disciples (Matt. 9:11), “Why does your Teacher (Jesus) eat with tax collectors and sinners.” You see, this went against their religion. Honestly, when you think about it, this is an interesting question for this group of people to be asking. The reason why it is interesting is because the Pharisees were supposed to work with, help, and guide those who were sinners in the first place.
The religious one’s fear
The problem, I believe the Pharisees faced, is a problem that many believers face today. Many believers today fear what would happen if they were to ever be seen associating with or sitting down with the sinners. Firstly, and even somewhat understandably, some believers think that the sinner will corrupt them. After all, it is said (Psalm 1:1), “Blessed (or happy) is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.”
We must understand that scripture like that speaks of a man who chooses to follow after sin. We must ask ourselves, are we not genuine in our faith? I would think that if we were strong in our faith in Christ, then we would have no fear of ever falling to sin. (I’m strong in my faith, so like I said last Sunday, I’m not going to compromise it for anything!)
Jesus, by choosing to sit with the “sinners” was not choosing to follow in the way of sin. Jesus tells us (Matt. 9:12), that he was there to treat those who were in need of His help. That certainly does not sound like a man who was there to join in on these folks supposed sin. No, Christ was always looking to work righteousness. So, if you sit down with the sinner, what are you looking to do: sin or work righteously through Christ?
Many believers also fear being seen sitting down with the sinners because they feel they have an “image to uphold”. In my opinion, these are the two most prominent reasons as to why the Pharisees would never go on and sit down with the sinners as Jesus did. How can we draw anybody to the Great Physician – Christ – if we’re worried about our image?
Jesus found that something was not quite right with these Pharisees and so He said to them (Matt. 9:13), “Learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” What do you think this means? This should be a saying that provokes the believer to think. You may ask, “why do you say that, Preacher?”
Mercy defined by Christ
What do we believe mercy is? When we think of mercy, we often link mercy with that of forgiveness and leniency. We, are more forgiving and lenient – merciful – to those who we know (family, friends, and some acquaintances). Yet, to think that mercy is only being more lenient and forgiving would be to limit the meaning of being merciful to Christ.
To show you how significant being merciful was to the Lord, He said He desired mercy and not sacrifice. Sacrifice was what was done to worship and pray to the Lord by those living in ancient days. When Jesus tells the Pharisees to learn this saying, he’s telling them that instead of the practice of worship, the Lord desired merciful followers (believers).
By definition, mercy means compassion and forgiveness shown especially to an offender or to someone subject to one’s power. Jesus, being God in the flesh, could have had nothing to do with us (mankind) because He is pure and righteous. Seriously, the Lord could have simply held His head high, ignored us, and let mankind rot in its sin. Yet, we find that God is both a merciful and loving God. (There are many people who try to be loving without being merciful, how could that ever work?)
An understanding Savior
Jesus had mercy on the one’s perceived to be sinners by choosing to go into their homes and sit with them when no other religious leader would. Do you know what happens at the dinner table? (I get that many of us don’t sit and eat dinner together anymore, but when we do, we talk about many things).
Jesus, by sitting with these perceived sinners showed that He cares and that He wanted to get to know them and, most importantly, understand them. Don’t think for a second that I mean He wanted to understand and accept their sinful ways. No, He wanted to hear exactly what they were going through and the why they may have done certain things so that He could show them a better way.
Many believers try to help people today without ever sitting down to get to know them or understand them. Again, I must ask, how could such a thing possibly even work? IF we, the believer, do choose to help somebody, we often come from a place where we have judged wrongly. It honestly comes off as being judgmental from a self-righteous point of view. When we choose to lack mercy, we end up being unable to do what the Lord has called us to do!
The mercy we should show
We are living at a time where the one who is perceived to be a sinner, needs for someone to take time to sit down with them, talk to them, and hear them. We cannot be like the Pharisees who would rather sit back and judge folks as sinners and unhelpable. Again, we are not called to judge folks as being “unhelpable” or even rush to judgment.
The genuine believer should move with mercy in their hearts for their fellow man. We should not move with mercy because we believe that it would meet some condition with God. No, we should move with mercy because the Lord has shown us mercy! Paul wrote (Titus 3:5), “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
You see, mercy is not only about forgiveness, but it’s about the compassion that one has in his or her heart for somebody else. How much do you care about somebody else? Do you care about the plight of others that you do not know? Do you, the genuine believer, care about those you consider to be unhelpable sinners? Will you ever take a moment to sit down with the sinners?
When you can take a moment to sit down with somebody, a lot is being said about you. Firstly, it shows that you don’t think yourself to be completely different from that person (this is humility). Secondly, it shows that you are willing to take time to listen and understand (this is genuinely caring). I wonder how much better our society would be, spiritually, if we really took time to sit and show somebody (the perceived sinner) the works of the Great Physician.