“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” – Matthew 9:10-13
Social Distancing has become part of everyone’s vocabulary during the last few weeks. Hoping to slow the spread of the Corona virus, it has become habit for us to stay at least six feet apart from one another.
But in Jesus’ day, there was another sort of social distancing. Some, notably the Pharisees, thought themselves righteous and made great efforts not to become defiled by associating with “sinners.”
Who were the “sinners?” Of course, you understand that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But the Pharisees of Jesus’ day really believed that their customs and traditions kept them righteous in God’s sight. And Pharisee means “separate ones.” The “sinners” were those whose sin was obvious to all: prostitutes, tax collectors (Roman collaborators), drunkards, people engaged in unclean professions of all kinds (like shepherds), and so on. Never would the Pharisees come into the home of a “sinner.” Never would they touch anything or anyone that might be tainted with sin.
Jesus detested that false theology. He, the righteous, sinless, Son of God, came into the world to save sinners! He came to befriend sinners and to show them God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. He knew you have to rub elbows with sinners to gain a conversation with them and to call them to repentance and faith. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. …For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
We may need to keep our distance because of virus, but never because we perceive someone is a greater sinner than myself. Paul wrote “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” – 1 Timothy 1:15 Our sins may be different in kind, but we are all equally guilty before God, just as we are all equally justified in Christ.
So in this time of Social Distancing, let’s make a special effort to embrace sinners with the forgiving love of God. Let’s embrace them with our words, with our gestures and expressions. With our actions and works. May unrepentant sinners see in you the grace and mercy of Christ and so see a person they think they might be able to talk to. And may the day soon come that all of us sinners can gather together and actually embrace one another again in the love of Christ.
Lord God, there are none righteous in their own deeds in your sight. Even our most righteous acts are stained with imperfection and sin. Sanctify our imperfect deeds with your perfect righteousness, that we might be better able to love and help one another. We are all sick in sin, needing Christ Jesus, the great physician of body and soul. Help us to see past the sin in one another so to recognize the precious soul Christ died for on the cross. Call us to repentance, for we are not so righteous that we need no repentance. Thank you for coming to earth to walk, and talk, and eat with sinners, that they might hear the Gospel, believe, and be saved. Amen.