It was 1967, and I was age 12, when the movie Guess Who is Coming to Dinner was released, a story about Joanna, a young woman who brings her fiance, John, home to dinner. The dilemma? She is white and he is black. The drama was close to home for Americans of that era because a mere six months before the movie was seen in cinemas, marriage between blacks and whites was illegal in 17 states. While Joanna had been raised by liberal parents who taught her to treat black people and members of other racial groups as equals, it became a problem when she wanted to bring one into the family.
As the drama of Jesus' ministry continues, the Pharisees had problem with a similar feel. They too were concerned with who was invited to dinner:
Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”
However the Pharisee's concern was more practical. The people Jesus had invited to eat with Him were not merely a different color skin, as in Joanna and John's case. They were bad people. They were notorious sinners. Don't think people who gossip about their neighbors and cheat on their taxes--oh no--these were more like drug dealers, child molesters, and international espionage agents. The dangerous kind, the kind your mother warned you about, and for good reason! That kind of sinner.
If Jesus was a teacher, sent by God, why would He choose to get close to these kinds of people? Of course, the Pharisees judged Him, but none the less, when asked honestly, it is a good question. Here's the answer:
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”
Jesus compares the sinner to the sick person, who cannot help themselves. That's the problem. When we sin, we cannot help ourselves, we need help. Ask anyone who has ever been to an AA meeting, and they will tell you, that is the first step to recovery: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. And then the second: Came to believe that a Power (that's God!) greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Then one more: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The sinner needs Jesus to help her, she cannot help herself. That's why they need mercy, not religion. That's why they need us to tell them about Jesus' love, forgiveness, and power for restoration. Another translation reads: I want you to show kindness to people. That's what Jesus was doing.
And that's what Jesus wants us to do too. Show kindness to people, even messy people. Even dangerous people. Those are the people who Jesus is inviting to dinner.
Beloved, this is very scary. I don't want to do this. It is counter-intuitive. Aren't we supposed to avoid dangerous sinful people? It is so much easier to just hang with people who think and believe like I do, to coddle the insiders. But instead, you ask us to invite the outsiders.
I am not sure I can do this!
Maybe, I need to admit that I am powerless to do what You would ask me to do and believe You alone have the power to live this kind of life. Ultimately I need to turn my life over to You so You can live Your life through me.
Yes, let's do that!