1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
Recently during our Worship team practice, we entered into an interesting discussion about this passage. These are the opening verses to some of the most familiar parables in all of Scripture: The Lost Coin, The Lost Sheep, The Prodigal Son.
How many times have I passed right over their introduction only to go straight to the "stories"?
There are some interesting things to note, consider and apply in these two short verses.
First of all, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God is talking to people. Teaching and preaching to them. Who, of all people, should be listening and learning? It should be the religious people, right? Teachers of the law and those responsible for furthering God's truth in the world. Right?
Instead, it was the sinners and tax collectors who were intentionally drawing close, gathering in to hear Him! That alone is a beautiful depiction of what Jesus came to do.
It was the next verse, though, that just really caught my attention. While Jesus is ministering and serving, changing lives for all of eternity...what are the "church folks" doing? The Message paraphrase states that they were "muttering". How classic. How telling. How relevant for today.
My heart cries out against the tendency to muttering, complaining, nay-saying, that we have come to accept in this thing we have "made" into the church. I'm no theologian, and I surely don't have all the answers, but deep down into my bones I don't believe we're "doing church" the way we should be. The way Jesus intended. For too long, we have allowed our buildings and all the stuff in them to be the focus of what we call church. And I mean that on such a deeper level than even the "here's the church, here's the steeple, but that's not the church, the church is the people" exercise that we've all learned since childhood.
I think it's easy to do lip-service to the notion that the building isn't really the church...but when it comes to the practical break-down of how the material possessions of a church are supposed to function in the Mission of the church???? It gets sticky. Sometimes it even gets ugly.
May we never forget that every brick, window, pew, table, offering plate, chalice, candelabra, etc., is nothing more than a tool consecrated to the use of furthering the Kingdom of God. And fulfilling HIS mission, which is to seek and save the lost, and make them disciples of Jesus Christ.
For while we're inside muttering, all manner of sin, pain, suffering, and loneliness is happening right in the shadow of our steeples.
And as Bill O'Reilly would say, "that's the memo".