Jesus Offends Again

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

Matthew would have been in a booth collecting taxes for the Roman road that people traveled on or for the fish that were caught in the Sea of Galilee. Either way, these taxes would have been a difficult burden to bear for the people of the area.

Tax collectors were Jewish men employed by the Roman government. They were hated and seen as traitors to their own people. They were known to charge more than was required as a means to line their own pockets. Since they had the power of the Roman government behind them, they could extort their own people without consequence. There is a lot of talk of “white privilege” and “male privilege” in our own culture. Tax collectors would have been the epitome of privilege within the Jewish community.

What the crowds expected Jesus to do as He passed by Matthew’s tax collector booth is unload one of His famous rebukes, like the ones we see Him speak to the Pharisees. Instead, Jesus does something wholly unexpected. Jesus calls Matthew to be one of His own disciples. Not only that, but then Jesus goes and has dinner at Matthew’s house bringing along His disciples and other “sinners.”

Jesus isn’t afraid to hang out with sinners, be welcomed into their home, and fellowship with them over meals. And while hanging out with sinners, He isn’t afraid to tell them that they are sick and in need of healing. In this way Jesus is a total offense both to liberals and conservatives in our own culture!

Can you imagine what progressives would have said if they witnessed Jesus choose someone who is full of greed and privilege–someone who regularly socially and economically exploited the marginalized–and call that guy to be one of His exclusive and chosen disciples? I can just hear progressive Christians saying, “Jesus clearly doesn’t understand what the gospel is all about. Someone should give Him a lesson in diversity, inclusion and privilege.”

Can you imagine what conservatives would have said if they witnessed Jesus partying at a house full of sinners–people who were morally compromised, whose lives were riddled with licentiousness and perversion? I can just hear conservative Christians saying, “Jesus clearly has gone over to the dark side of compromising the gospel. Associating with those people does not promote the gospel of truth.”

Can you imagine what progressives would have said when Jesus responds to the question of why He eats with tax collectors and sinners and His response is essentially that they are sick and need of healing? Can you imagine how offended they would be? “How dare you call them sick. Who are you to judge them? How dare you say they need healing!”

Can you not see how far we have fallen from the standard that is Jesus?

Can you not see how easily offended we all are?

Can you not see how the progressives and conservatives both do not understand nor represent who Jesus really was?

Jesus may You help us to become much more offensive than we currently are…in all the best ways. May the way we lean into mercy instead of sacrifice offend and provoke in all the ways that You did, Jesus. I pray that my life would be a total offense to religious folks who are both progressive and conservative.

Offensive Jesus

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus was always saying offensive things like this. The culture of His day, not unlike our own, operated on an “in-group” and “out-group” mentality. You were to be loyal and loving to “your” people. But you had no obligation to care about the out-group, your enemies that didn’t earn their way into the in-group.

It is in the midst of this cultural climate that Jesus blows it all up. He says just about the most offensive thing one could say. He tells the crowds to not only love their in-group but to love their enemy. This was scandalous! It still is!

Sometimes we don’t understand how offensive Jesus really is until we put it in the context of our own culture.

To the progressives: Jesus isn’t speaking to the crowd and saying, “See, this is why we shouldn’t go to war. We should love our enemy.” No. Jesus was speaking to a crowd of oppressed Jewish people and He was telling them to love the Romans–their violent oppressors. In other words, Jesus was speaking to a crowd full of undocumented immigrants at the border and He was saying, “You need to love Trump! If you don’t love him, you’re no better than he is.”

To the conservatives: Jesus isn’t speaking to a crowd and saying, “You should learn to love the Chinese even though they are communists.” No. Jesus was speaking to the pro-life rally and saying, “You need to love the feminist who flaunts her many abortions as badges of honor. If you don’t love her, you’re no better than she is.”

Whether you are a progressive or a conservative or somewhere in-between, can you feel how offensive this feels? This is Jesus. He was not always easy to be around. His words were not always comforting. He offended. He hurt feelings. He wasn’t always trying to liberate the oppressed from their external oppression, but instead was often trying to free people from sin. He was trying to liberate people from the internal oppression of hatred and bitterness. He wasn’t always trying to enforce external morality, but instead was often inviting people into internal transformation.

Who do you hate? Who can’t you stand? That’s the very person Jesus is commanding you to love. Loving our “in-group” isn’t enough if we are followers of Jesus. We’re called to love our enemy. We’re called to love our enemy until we can see them, not as an enemy, but as a person created in the image of God…a person for whom Jesus died.