Jesus and Sinners

by Jim West

       The four Gospels tell us a great deal about Jesus and His dealings with the Scribes of the Pharisees (and note, not scribes AND Pharisees). They also tell us a great deal about His relationship with His somewhat slow-of-wit disciples. (Now I don't mean to impugn the disciples- but if you read the Gospels with at least one eye open you discover that the disciples were singularly dense!). And the Gospels also tell us! a great deal about Jesus and his work among sinners. It is this last group that I am presently concerned with; for I think that it is this group which is most like modern Americans.
       There are, in fact, not many religious professionals today. At least not as many per capita as lived in first century Palestine; for that is what the Pharisees were. They were a group of men dedicated, utterly, to the law and its fulfillment. And, in modern America, there are not many disciples of Jesus floating around. We may proclaim ourselves to be a Christian nation, but this is hardly so in fact- for the very words Jesus uttered and which were later collected in the "Sermon on the Mount" are simply not adhered to by many Americans at all. (One thinks, for instance, of the dictum; turn the other cheek. If you can find one in one thousand among Church members who do this you have found a treasure!).
       But there are quite a few "sinners" in modern America. So it b!ehooves us to know what a sinner is and why it was this particular "people group" which attracted so much of Jesus' attention and compassion (for the astute reader of the Gospels will know right away that Jesus had harsh things to say to both disciples and Pharisees- but nothing of the kind for the "sinners"!).
       What is a sinner, in the vocabulary of first century Judaism? A sinner is simply a person who is apathetic to the law and disinterested in its application to daily life. Thus, then as now, sinners are folk who simply do not wish to, or try to, live out the fullness of the will of God.
       One can scarce turn a page in the four Gospels without running smack dab into a sinner/ tax collector/ Samaritan. In Jesus' day these were the folk looked down upon by the religious and ignored by the powerful. Yet these are the very folk Jesus hangs out with! He eats with them. He stays with them when he travels. He cares about them. And he tried to! get his disciples to do the same thing. In short, Jesus ministered to those who needed the great physician. He cared about those who cared nothing for God or about religious behavior! In doing so he showed them God's undying, undeserved, love.
       Modern American Christianity must recapture its master vision of ministry. Instead of ministering to the up and coming and well to do (which most do because they have the money to fund churches) we should turn our eyes towards the gutters and reach out in the name of Jesus to the "sinners" of our day; the drug abusers, the alcoholics, the homosexuals, and the child abusers. One, when thinking of Jesus, must surely picture him among these people sharing the love of God rather than sitting in a finely attired living room sipping tea with the ladies aid society.
       Who are the sinners? They are the folk who will never have time for God until they realize that God has time for them. When will they realize this? When the rather dull-of-wit disciples of Jesus act like the!ir master instead of the Pharisees.