And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
The Pharisees were good at assigning labels to everyone else and passing their judgment, even of Jesus. But Jesus had some labels for them, too: hypocrites, vipers, blind, foolish. And those Pharisees stand off to the side, looking down upon everyone else, elevating themselves to this position that is really not theirs to have. They were too busy getting what they wanted to give to anyone else. They cared too much about themselves to reach a hand to someone in need.
And then there’s Jesus in the midst of those everyone else would write off. There is Jesus at the table with them, sharing a meal, listening to their stories, sharing with them His truth, and showing them their value by taking time for them. He doesn’t see people with those labels we’re all so good at assigning to others and even ourselves. He knows their names. He knows everything about them. And He loves them. When He went looking for disciples, He went to those who would respond to Him—those lowly fishermen, even a publican, even Judas. And when He ministered, He went to those who would appreciate most what He could offer to them.
Jesus was always in the midst, among His people, identifying with mankind—the lowest, the lost, the worthless, the cast off, the hated, the ashamed, the broken, the poor. But the Pharisees, who cared so much about appearance and position, can’t believe Jesus wasn’t concerned about the same thing, what it looked like for Him to associate with such people. But isn’t that why He came? And isn’t that part of what draws us to Him? His evident compassion? The fact that He would come to us where we are when we are the sinner and haven’t attained to the Pharisees’ righteousness?
The truth is, Jesus knows who we are, and He knows we are sinners. He knows the weight of the wrong we carry upon us, the label we bear, the condemnation we feel. And yet that doesn’t drive Him away from us, but to us, as He seeks us out to save us. Too often the world will cast off what it views as other, as less than. But then there’s Jesus, gathering them close, calling out to them so they can know they are loved and wanted. What an amazing love. May we truly be thankful for it. And may we treat others with that same love and compassion that Jesus has for all of us sinners.