You once enjoyed going to the beauty shop every month. Not anymore. A brooding, black haired, black eyed, black nailed, black booted, black dressed Goth with a ring in her nose and a stud in her tongue cuts hair next to the chair you’ve sat in for three years. There’s a spider web tattoo on her hand. She gives you the creeps. You do your best to avoid her.
A customer you call on monthly tells a foul joke and curses with the Lord’s name each time you arrive. He does it just to challenge you. You feel dirty when you leave. You really, really struggle to make that sales call.
A heavy drinking coworker is planning your office Christmas party. You know it will be a very merry Christmas with him in charge. Do you go?
We want to please Christ and do the right thing when around such people. How do we relate to disreputable, sometimes disgusting unbelievers? What is a Christ honoring response to lost persons that we neither like nor approve? Let’s step back 2,100 years and visit just such a meeting. Luke’s record says:
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 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.”
Think about the players in the story. Levi – an audacious hustler with few ethics – and those twisted. A traitor with a singular motive – money. He may have taxed Peter’s catch or one of the Pharisee’s donkey carts. And put the money right into his pocket. He was the lowest of the lowest to religious Jews. Then there were his coworkers – other tax collectors whom Levi might have mentored. And their friends the “sinners.”
Levi’s dinner party for Jesus swelled his home with the dregs of society. And there sat Jesus and his disciples gladly breaking bread with them. Jesus accepted and embraced these community outcasts. He laughed at some of their jokes and toasted some of their dreams. The atmosphere must have crackled with that dynamic mix of sinners, saints and the Savior. Until a harsh, cold wind blew in with the Pharisees.
Now, give the Pharisee’s credit. They wanted to please God. They were students of Scripture. They saw themselves as preservers of the faith and protectors of the faithful.They practiced, taught and expected separation from disreputable, ungodly people. And they acted on their beliefs. But they also saw these dregs with the eyes of a judge. The Pharisees focused on behaviors – they saw tax collectors and sinners, not people. The unclean were to be to rejected rather than reached. Sinners were threats to spiritual health.
Jesus on the other hand saw these detested, morally unclean persons with the eyes of a doctor. They were people. They were sin-sick. They needed healing – and he was in the house call business.
To be Christ-like is just that – to be like Christ – to see people as needing spiritual healing and to see ourselves as the Doctor’s assistants. Next time you go to the beauty shop invite that Goth for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Ask her to tell you her story.
Tell your off-color customer a clean joke. Ask him who is his favorite comedian. And invite him to a round of golf. Build a bridge.
Go to your office Christmas party. Have a Sprite Zero and offer to be the designated driver.
Let’s ask the Lord to doctor our eyes and give us the eyes of a doctor.