In Mark 2:14-17 we are told how Jesus passed Levi the tax collector, whom we know better as Matthew, and called him to follow. Matthew agreed, and Jesus and His other disciples went over to Matthew’s house for dinner. Matthew’s friends came over, and Matthew’s friends were not church people – “tax collectors and sinners,” Mark identifies them.
Jesus’ choice of dining companions shocked the religious scribes – “Why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked. And for this critique, Jesus had a simple answer: the healthy don’t need a doctor. “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (v.17).
Now Jesus’ greater point there that the Pharisees no doubt missed may have been there is no one who is righteous – we all need Jesus. But it is clear that Jesus had no problem socializing with sinners – in fact, He said these are exactly the kind of people for whom He came.
There is a book on Christian hospitality titled The Gospel Comes with a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield. The author was once a deeply anti-Christian unbeliever who would never have darkened the door of an evangelistic rally, church service, or Bible study. But an invitation to dinner by a humble Christian couple who practiced a vibrant hospitality eventually drew her to faith in Jesus. In this book about practicing the kind of “radically ordinary hospitality” that drew her to the faith, the author shares how she opens her house every evening to whomever will come for dinner.
It’s a challenging book. Not least of all in that hospitality is not a gift that comes naturally to me. And furthermore, there is a tendency among Christians to avoid associating with the world for fear of being corrupted by the world. But if we are to emulate Jesus, we must welcome those who look, think, believe, and act differently than we do. Evangelism can’t all be done within the walls of a church or in the context of church programming, or there will be so many we will miss. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find Him where the sinners are.
I am reminded of a little poem the missionary C.T. Studd was fond of quoting:
Some want to live within the sound
Of Church or Chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop
Within a yard of hell.
Are we carrying the love of Jesus to those who are in need of it? Are we inviting them to our table? Or are we waiting for them to come to us?
~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair