There really isn’t a third group. Jesus ate with sinners. He spoke to those that followed Him (fishermen, children, diseased, depressed, hopeless). They took one glance at this man and followed Him. Then there were the religious elite, the pharisees. He often rebuked them as their judgement was in error and had no place in a gospel built on love and forgiveness.
So where is the third group? Where is the group we all think we belong in? Where would we be sitting if Jesus walked into the mall today and there we are? Most of us admit we have sinned at one time way back when, but we really dislike the connotation of ‘sinner’. The pharisees were far worse. Hypocrites, self righteous, pious. We don’t want to be lumped in with them… but we certainly don’t find ourselves at the tax collector’s table either.
So who are we? Maybe we could argue we fit in the middle? That almost sounds like being lukewarm, which promises we will be spat out of grace should that be the case. I can tell you who you are, but you may not like it. It’s both good news and bad. Lets start with the bad.
You are the sinner. We all are. We are human. We have fallen. We have a diabolical enemy with an army of demons that literally want to drag us to Hell fighting over our souls. We make mistakes, we goof, and sometimes we just plain choose to do dumb things. We are actively sinners. All of us. The pharisees are simply the group of us that lives in denial.
So, the good news? We are the ones Jesus came to save. We would find Him at our table. He would come into our home. He will heal us. He will free us. He will forgive us. He will lift us up and allow us to join with Him in the place He has prepared for His children.
Two groups of people. One followed Him, touched Him in faith, carried their sick to Him, washed His feet. Sinners, all of them. The other group nailed Him to the cross because they felt superior to Him and those He came to save. They also feared Him. Jesus came to us in our mess. He meets us where we are. He did it before and it cost His life. He does it still.
Why did the pharisees hate Him? He came to save us. Our group. The little guy. They thought he belonged at the cool table. But He choose the outcast, the lonely, the forgotten. The pharisees pass judgement and then claim they are holier than any other. Do you recall the simple scripture that addresses judgement? Here it is in all its tricky, complicated, pieces for us to sort out and argue over… “Do not judge.”.
Sounds like a wonderful test to me. Which group do you belong? Whose sins are you worried about? Yours? Or those of another? Does Jesus live in your home? Or do you grind your teeth at the thought of others worshiping Him? Those people who do it all wrong. They meet on the wrong day, they sing the wrong songs, they interpret God’s word differently than you. How dare they enjoy His presence… His blessing… His gift!
The good news about being in the ‘sinners’ group is that we have each other. All of us, in it together, needing grace, knowing what stumbling is like, knowing what shame feels like, knowing what judgement feels like. And as we yearn to be more like Jesus, we can sense what forgiveness feels like as we embrace each other, sinners all the same, and love each other the way He taught us to. There is simply no room for judgement. We do not wish to be judged and we do not judge.
What replaces judgement? Prayer. We pray for each other. We pray for the pharisees. We pray for our enemies, for those who wrong us. We pray for those who need grace, love, healing, and hope. We do life together. Helping each other. We embrace the words spoken as Jesus prepared to return to heaven. “let them be one”. We unite in our sin (not as a badge of honor, but as a common ground of understanding). And much more so, we unite in our need for grace and humility.
I’m not proud of my sin, but I love those traveling with me who withhold judgement. We have a common enemy that would use that against us if we let him. Something great happens when we accept what group we are in. It’s not giving up… we always strive to improve and make God proud every chance we can. But knowing our place disarms the enemy. He can’t hold our past hostage over us any longer. When we know our place, we know we are forgiven.
When we know our place, we know we are loved and the lies of the enemy sounds as hypocritical as the judgement cast down from those told to not judge. We all need forgiveness. Some of us need to forgive. Some of us need to invite God into our mess. He will come. Just as you are. Just where you are. One of Satan’s biggest lies is that we have to meet some criteria to be worthy of forgiveness. What a tremendous lie that is!
Don’t be that monkey in the middle who thinks that only the other two sides get to play. Jump out and claim your place at the sinners table filled with grace, love, forgiveness, hope, eternal promises, and have a seat next to our heavenly brother, Jesus. He has been waiting for you.