Chapter 4 of James Dunn’s book Jesus’ Call to Discipleship tackles Jesus’ ministry to sinners. The Jews defined a sinner as one who disregards or breaks the law. Dunn points out how important the law was (and still is) for Jews. It was what made them who they were; it gave them their identity as a Nation. The law helped them understand how God expected them to live. The Jews, being God’s chosen people, could live as God’s people by obedience to the law. However, the law transpired into outward dos and don’ts. Because of this, the law became all about externals (e.g., what you do and don’t do), which caused a lot of people to fall into the classification of sinners.
When Jesus emerged on the scene He treated sinners differently. He talked to them, touched them, and even ate a meal with them (which was a big deal to the Pharisees and their tradition). When you read through the Gospels it seems as if Jesus actually enjoyed their company and fellowship. He did this because of His love for the lost and hurting. He stirred up a lot of opposition because of the time He spent with such disgusting people, but He had to reveal the heart of God. The heart of God loves, and even likes, people.
I was challenged in how I spend my time and whom I spend my time with. If Jesus found it so important to be with the lost, shouldn’t I? It amazed me how uneasy the religious people of Jesus’ day were with Him spending so much time with sinners. Why were they so upset about this? What did they believe about God and who He was/is to make them so upset? Didn’t they have a bigger picture of God and His kingdom from their forefathers? Shouldn’t have God’s people known better? I guess tradition can be an easy distraction to serving and reaching the lost. Do we have any traditions that barricade us from helping a lost person find true hope? If so, how do we break free?