But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
- Luke 5:30
Look at those poor Pharisees. They stand just outside of the party. They can hear the music, see the decorations, smell the food, but they can’t bring themselves to enter in and enjoy the fun. They can’t jump in and join Jesus.
The Pharisees felt responsible to keep God’s people on the path of righteousness. They tried to get Israel to keep God’s laws and live as God’s people. They believed that this obedience would cause God to liberate them from Roman oppression. They had this beautiful blend of religious zeal and political pragmatism, sadly corrupted by our common human frailty: greed, self-righteousness, and a lust for power.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples about eating with tax collectors, there’s a hint of accusation and also a hint of jealousy. People like Jesus and his disciples – according to social convention – aren’t supposed to share meals or spend time with tax collectors and sinners. People like Jesus and his disciples were – again, according to social convention – supposed to court the attention of the religious elites like the Pharisees. The Pharisees are hurt and insulted by Jesus’ choice of party companions.
The irony is that the party-goers most likely would have welcomed the Pharisees in with open arms. They probably would have been thrilled to have some of the local respectable establishment show some enthusiasm for this tax-extortion-profit fueled party. But the Pharisees stayed outside.
So many people will say that they like or even admire Jesus, they just can’t stand his followers. They stand outside the party.
Our modern society normally paints the religious as the ones who hate the party atmosphere (as one of our own poets has said: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.”). And perhaps there are religious people who refuse to connect at a heart-level with Jesus because they can’t stand the company he keeps, but this refusal isn’t limited to the religious.
The invitation to follow Jesus will almost immediately place you in the company of people who “people like you” don’t normally associate with. We love this about Jesus, even as we find it difficult. It’s difficult to learn to associate with people who are different from you. But it’s worth it to follow Jesus.
Where have you heard people say that they like Jesus but not Christians? How have you responded to them in the past? How might today’s passage shape your responses in the future?