I first learned to love God through His Word and didn’t walk through the doors of a church building until I’d read and wrestled through the Book at least once. Since then, I’ve continued to read and wrestle through the Bible repeatedly – a practice that’s brought to light some rather odd discrepancies between the actual Words of God and Bible-belt churchianity culture where I live. A few of these discrepancies have grown into pet peeves, like the oft-repeated mantra, “Jesus hung out with sinners.”
To that, I can only muster both shreds of dignity, roll my eyes, and state with all possible decorum, “Well, duh!”
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.Genesis 6:5
I have to wonder if anyone who repeats this slogan has actually read the Bible. The whole of it, I mean; not just the verse of the day, an occasional victorious meme, or Aunt Sue’s Hobby Lobby signs.
The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.Psalm 14:2-3
Honestly, you don’t need to turn many pages of Scripture to find human beings sinning. All of them. Starting with the first two ever created and spiraling downward from there. My rogue race began with simple disobedience and quickly progressed to bloodshed, polygamy, incest – and it just keeps getting worse.
Even David, the man after God’s own heart, committed adultery (and possibly rape) followed by conspiracy to commit murder to cover his backside (see 1 Samuel 13:14, 2 Samuel 11). Anyone reading it can see the truth behind Paul’s words: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). An honest look at the news headlines, social media feeds, or even our own lives confirms this truth is ongoing.
My best guess is that those who repeat this inane refrain are drawing from segments of Scripture such as the following excerpt:
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”Mark 2:15-17
It’s true – Jesus did dine with sinners. In fact, every time He ate in the presence of a human being, He was dining with a sinner.
To put it another way, Jesus didn’t come to earth with the option of going on occasional retreats with His like-minded buddies who were also sinless incarnations of the Living God. Every person He interacted with was a sinner.
Jesus had no alternatives; if He hung out with anyone, He hung out with sinners.
However, those who spend their time parroting this phrase without contemplation are missing the beauty of the passage. When the Lord responded to the accusations of the Pharisees and scribes, He wasn’t telling them that He preferred the company of sinners to the company of upstanding, righteous members of the community. Or in today’s vernacular, He wasn’t saying He’d rather hang out with prostitutes and drunks than with pastors and clergy.
Instead, He was subtly rebuking them.
Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous – because there are none. He came to call sinners, a label we all carry whether we realize it or not. Even those Pharisees. Especially those Pharisees and those of us who – like them – believe we are “good people” because of what we’ve done and because of our ability to justify the ickier deeds.
I stood upon a high place,Stephen Crane
And saw, below, many devils
and carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, “Comrade! Brother!”
That Jesus spent time around sinners is a given, but the reason this phrase has become a pet peeve is the way it’s often used. Too often, people sling these words around to justify their own poor choices in companionship. If we were Jesus, we needn’t worry about being corrupted by the company we keep. But we are not Him.
While it’s vital that we tell everyone the gospel, it’s also important that we remember our own proclivity to stray. As my pastor says, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily; keeping alert to our own need of Him and remaining wary lest we take the easy road into sinful practices and disavow the gospel’s power by our deeds. Or by our pride.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.Proverbs 11:2