The friend of sinners
The world is always judging Jesus. At His birth much was made of His name (Matthew 1:18-25). At His death the key issue was His identity (Matthew 26:63-65). And the central question of the Gospels is “What think ye of Christ?” (Matthew 22:42).
Sometimes the labels He attracted were true and well-meant, as in “Behold the Lamb of God“. Sometimes they were false and ill-meant, as in “He hath a devil” (Luke 7:33). But in this verse we have an accusation that is both true and ill-meant. Here Jesus comments on the verdicts being passed on Him:
“The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” (Luke 7:34)
In the minds of these accusers “friend of sinners” was a shameful epithet. Perhaps they lived by that old maxim: “you can tell a man by the company he keeps!” What should they conclude when they see Jesus associating with such “down-and-outs”?
Well they should think: Jesus is the Doctor for the sick. They should see the out-going merciful love of Jesus for sinners. And such love should thrill them. But instead they see it as a slur. “Friend of sinners” is their slander. But Jesus owns the title with pride.
And Luke shows us what it means with the next incident he relates. Read Luke 7:36-52 to see Christ’s befriending love shown to a sinner. There a “woman in the city, which was a sinner”, kisses Jesus’ feet, washes them with her tears and dries them with her hair. It’s more than an awkward moment for the respectable Pharisee who has invited Jesus to his house. The Pharisee, called Simon, says to himself “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”
Jesus responds to the thoughts of Simon: “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” The answer is inescapable. Whoever has been forgiven much will love much.
Simon imagined that he had little or no debt to be forgiven. Therefore Simon did not love Jesus.
The woman knew that she was indebted to the hilt. But she also knew that Jesus was the Friend of Sinners. She loved Him very much. And Jesus says to her: “Thy sins are forgiven… Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
How do you respond to the Friend of Sinners?
How we judge the Judge will prove to be our judgement.
Are you scandalized? Do you watch, bemused, from the sidelines as Jesus mixes with the undesirables? Or do you flock to Him in your sin no matter what the respectable might think? What is your assessment of Jesus? Do you love the Friend of Sinners? If so, He says to you: “Thy sins are forgiven. Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace.”