9As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
10And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
14Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
If Jesus were to hang out with people today, with whom would he hang out? Tax collectors? IRS agents? "Sinners"? Prostitutes? Drug addicts? Prisoners? Professors? Rock stars? Politicians? Ministers?
Answer: we wouldn't know.
We might be tempted to answer, Whoever is equivalent to "tax collectors and sinners" in our day. But not necessarily so. Jesus did hang out with tax collectors and sinners in his day, in part to show the nature of God's kingdom and the kind of people who are invited into God's kingdom. The usual religious candidates were avoided by Jesus not only because they rejected him, but because Jesus was intent on showing that God's kingdom belonged not to the religious or "righteous" but to "sinners" (everyone).
Jesus is the least religious figure you can imagine. It seems odd to say that, but it's true. Religion as a way to God. Religion as a type of "works-righteousness" is summarily rejected by Jesus. That's why Jesus tells the Pharisees to study the meaning of 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'. No one enters God's kingdom, no one enters God's salvation through "sacrifice" or religious ritual. Going to church a thousand times with a religious spirit is never as good as going to God sincerely seeking His mercy.
Sometimes we sentimentalize Jesus and the type of people Jesus loves spending time with. It's interesting that the Risen Lord picks out not an illiterate bumpkin as his main messenger of the Gospel but a highly intelligent Pharisee! The Apostle Paul was that intelligent (and yes, for a time, a very religious) Pharisee.
Jesus loves spending time with people, period. Especially those who know they are messed up. But even for those who think highly of themselves (like Saul/Paul) Jesus might surprisingly show up.
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, we thank you that the Kingdom of God is not for the "righteous" but for sinners like us. We thank you that you invite us to be part of your Kingdom. We thank you for loving us and enjoying everyone's company. May we enjoy your company today and grow in our conversational relationship with you. Amen.