It’s difficult to make an informed decision when you don’t have all the facts. Several times in my career as an auditor, I have had moments where I thought I had found something that was a problem—a “gotcha” moment. I don’t want to oversell how excited I get, but I’ve been known to stand up at my desk and do the “Joey-Patch” and then practice my Ricky Ricardo imitation—“Auditee, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.” More often than not, the issue has not been nearly as interesting as I had thought because, due to a lack of information, I had a wrong perspective. In like manner, the two groups that raise objections to Christ in this chapter of scripture (the Pharisees and John the Baptist’s disciples) had a skewed perspective due to a lack of insight into the truth.
Let’s take the Pharisees, for instance. In Matthew 9:10, we read that Christ is eating at a dinner that Mark and Luke tell us was held in Matthew’s home (Luke 5:29). Since most of the people Matthew knew, due to his station as a social outcast as a result of his former occupation, were tax collectors and assorted irreligious folk, we find Jesus surrounded by just such a crowd. The text does not explicitly say so, but it’s not too far of a stretch to imagine that Matthew used this occasion for evangelism. He was so thankful that Christ had called him from his life of sin (Matthew 9:9) that he wanted to share the same opportunity with his friends. After all, if Christ could save a thieving tax collector, surely He could save anyone.
So, with the stage set as Christ ate with this motley crew, the Pharisees come along and see Jesus keeping company with people that they themselves would view as undesirable. Cowardly as they are, they don’t directly present their accusations to Jesus but go to His disciples and ask “Why is your teacher eating with tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11). The obvious implication being that Christ was defiling Himself by associating with such sinful people. Frankly, their question might appear biblical if you didn’t think too hard about it. After all, we read in Haggai 2:13 that uncleanness is contagious while holiness is not. And we are exhorted in other scriptures to avoid immorality (1 Thessalonians 5:22, for instance). Therefore, if we are to imitate Christ, how does this fit into the mold which we are called to imitate?
I would suggest, first of all, that we should observe the setting Christ is in. He has not gone down to a brothel or the temple of some Roman god where sinful activity was going on. He was in a home, an invited guest, eating supper. He was not participating or encouraging immoral behavior, rather He was going about His business—the business of His Father God. I’ve heard of people saying “Yeah, I went down with ol’ Joe to the Grub and Pup last night and shot some tequila with him so I could have a chance to share the gospel.” Friends, we’re not supposed to follow the world into immorality but rather we’re supposed to point them to the Light. As we go though our lives at school, at work, in the store, or wherever we are, we will have opportunities to do as Christ did and interact with people who have not heard the gospel or have not yet repented and trusted Christ to save them. So, just as He did, we need to take those opportunities to be found “eating with tax collectors and sinners”—not engaged in sin with them but living our lives among them.
Christ did not call us out of the world but He called us to live here and share the gospel with those we meet. Rather than isolating ourselves from contact with “sinners” like the Pharisees did, we need to have the perspective of Christ and take the opportunities we have as we live our lives to share the life changing gospel of Christ with a world that desperately needs it. We will look more specifically next time as to Christ’s response to their object and what He taught them, and us, about a proper perspective on evangelism.