To Call The Sinners
"When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:16-17
I've been in Madrid, Spain for a little over a month now, and I've thought frequently about what this verse should look like in my life. I recall my time in the ministry in South China in 2014, and the intentional time I spent with people who were not Christians. In China, most of the time in my days was spent meeting, spending time with, or studying the Bible with people who weren't Christians. My time for being with disciples was at home, and at church services (and of course the different meetings I would intentionally make in my week for fellowship). Still, the majority of my time, by a long shot, was spent with people who weren't Christians. Why? The most effective way to meet people who are not Christians and who might like to be Christians is by spending time with and meeting the people who aren't Christians.
In the scripture we read above, the Pharisees are thrown back by Jesus' decision to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus responds counter-culturally, breaking social barriers and instigating a stir of responses from the Pharisees, like he so frequently does. He says, " I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners."
How often do we see Jesus heal a Pharisee in the New Testament? According to my count, zero times. However, there are still 30+ healings in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). He healed lepers, demoniacs, paralytics, blind people, deaf people, mute people. He healed the servant's ear that Peter cut off, the servant who was there to help arrest Jesus just hours before his crucifixion (Luke 22:51-52). Jesus' eyes were constantly focused on the needs of the helpless, those considered less than human in society. I must remind myself that that is what I was, and what I still am without God. "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners" (Romans 5:6). Utterly helpless. I am exactly that without the Shepherd.
We are all living in the land of darkness, and in some places the darkness seems absent of any light. Many of those we talk to, meet, and want to study the Bible with have no personal desire to be removed from the darkness. Either they enjoy the darkness too much, think they are not in the darkness, or actually are not in the darkness (are already in the Light). Sometimes, we must show and persuade people what living in the light means, while other times we should continue searching for the person who knows they aren't in the light. There are more people on the planet that know for a fact they are not a Christian than there are those who think they are. And it's in the darkest places that light shines brightest.
"The people walking in darkness / have seen a great light; / a light has dawned / on those living in the land of darkness" (Isaiah 9:2).
In Christ is LIFE, and "that life is the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4-5).
It's in the darkest places that light shines brightest.
When we surround ourselves with people who are without Christ, our light gets to shine brightest, and the darkness does not overcome the lightness. Now, we should be wise to remain in Christ (John 15) and continue meeting with the body (Hebrews 10:25), because we know that "bad company corrupts good character" (1 Cor 15:33). But to be completely removed from the world, and to only be surrounded with Christians at all times and in every way means to also forfeit the opportunities of meeting those who need healing, the many people who are in the darkness.
I know there are those Christians who came from entirely different religions, or used to believe in nothing at all. I have met them, and some of my close friends were exactly that. But sometimes persuading people of God who are less inclined to believe feels like the rocky path, and not many people like taking the rockier path. On the other side, I know countless Christians who have always been Bible-believers, but who are extremely grateful for those who took the time to show them the full Bible, and helped to open their eyes to the full truth. This is also a miracle like any other. A soul that is saved, regardless of what they believed before they were saved, is still a soul saved! "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). A sinner who turns to God, whether they were Bible-believing since birth, Hindu. Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Anti-theist, Confucianist, Jewish, or "other", is a saved soul, and warrants rejoicing even in the presence of the angels of God. No soul is worth more to God than another!
However, in my nearly eight years as a Christian, I've studied the Bible with dozens and dozens of Bible-believing people, many times spending the majority of the meetings together speaking to one or two of their professed doctrines that might not match the Bible's standard. I've seen this in my life, and in the many lives of Christians I know, while I less frequently observe a person converted to Christianity from no Christianity at all. I know it happens, but Jesus didn't spend time healing the Pharisees, because they didn't think they needed any healing at all. They were already religious. They felt they already knew their stuff, and they weren't welcoming Jesus' teachings. The example Jesus set for us is to find and heal the sick, not to convince people that, whether or not they're aware, they are indeed sick. Convincing someone who thinks they are healthy of being sick is much more difficult than healing someone who knows they are desperately sick. Jesus didn't have to convince the blind man he was blind, and he didn't need to persuade the paralytic that he couldn't walk. They knew full well. Being sick is obvious.
I've been listening to the Hamilton Broadway soundtrack recently (a lot), and I've drawn many spiritual parallels. In the track "Wait For It", there's a repeated line: "Love doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints."
The way we are called to love is a standard that Jesus perfectly set by the way he interacted with, healed, and lifted up the social outcasts of his day and age. He ate with society's most despised people, and healed those that the religious people of his time completely ignored and avoided.
Love doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints.
There is another line in the track Wait For It: "Death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and saints; it takes and it takes and it takes." No matter who we are, where we live, or what we believe, the two things that connects every person in all of existence to ever live is that they were born, and they die, no matter what. The saints die, and the sinners die.
If I meet someone who tells me they are a Christian, and that they have been saved, and that they live in the lightness, and are no longer in the darkness, I am more quickly inclined to continue searching for the person who doesn't think those things about themselves than I am to spend weeks or months "making sure" this person is who he says he is. If someone tells me they are a Christian, I choose to believe that they are until it's proven otherwise. Sometimes I think we choose to believe someone is not until it's proven otherwise.
The need of the day is to persuade people to believe in God and to become a Christian. If all our time is spent with people who say they already know the Bible and are already Christians, then we too easily miss the sea of people who desperately need any ounce of Light. If we surround ourselves with only those who are already Christians, then we will never make Christians.
The darkness desperately needs the Light, and we "are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).
I love you all.
"To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen (Jude 23-24).