Jesus Ate with Publicans and Sinners

by Terry W. Benton

There is no doubt that Jesus was among publicans and sinners and ate with them. What was He doing? Was he gambling with them? Was He smoking with them? Drinking intoxicating drink with them? Cursing and laughing at dirty jokes? Was He being complicit with them as they sinned more? One thing that we know Jesus was not doing is practicing sin with them or “approving of those who do such things” (Romans 1:32), which would also be a sin. When Jesus was eating with sinners it was to “call them to repentance.” Sinners that Jesus ate with were those sinners that were looking for a better way of life and had invited Jesus to eat with them so that they could learn from Him.

The kinds of sinners Jesus did not waste time with were sinners who were hardened in sin and who “hated the light and would not come to the light lest their deeds be exposed” (John 3:20). There are sinners that you cannot help. Jesus said “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces" (Matthew 7:6).

Jesus ate with sinners, but they were not the kind of sinners that did not want to be around someone who told them that they need to change their lives. He never forced Himself upon those who “hated the light” and would not come to the light. As you can see, Jesus ate with sinners who came to Him. He did not go to a house of prostitution and act like one of them. He did not go to a saloon or pub and just fit in as “one of the boys”. He ate with those sinners that were open to listening to His call to repentance and therefore came to Him to hear His words.

"Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners , to repentance" (Matthew 9:10-13).

These sinners came to Jesus and knew they were wrong and needed to straighten out their lives and knew that Jesus would tell them the truth in a caring way. They were willing to come to the light. These were no swine who would not appreciate His words and who would trample His words and oppose Him.

Jesus was not being a companion with those who intended to keep sinning. Jesus was showing His compassion for sinners who knew they were wrong and were wanting to know how He could help them.

When Jesus ate with sinners they were never the same when He left them. They came to Him to learn from Him and they left with clear decisions to make about their lives. He came to call sinners to repentance. He had what they needed, and they were not offended that He called them to repentance.

Is that what you are doing with worldly friends? Are you calling them to repentance? Or, are you trying to just fit in with them? Paul warned that evil companionships corrupt good morals (I Corinthians 15:33). Are you among them influencing them to be saved from sin? Or, are you among them to fit in with them? Are you doing what they do, dressing like they dress, talking like they talk, and acting like they act? Are they aware that you are a Christian who has left a worldly lifestyle and are trying to get them to change too? Or, are you hiding the light under a basket so that they are not even aware of your change and your desire for their change? If they do not see the difference between your principles and priorities and theirs, are you there to help change them? Or, are they changing you back to worldly standards?

It is good to be a light for people in the dark provided that you are not hiding the light. It is good to be the salt of the earth, working among sinners to influence them for good, but if we have become salt that has lost its savor, we become fit for nothing but to be trampled underfoot of men (Matthew 5:13-16). We must let our light shine so that people will know that we are servants of God with a better life and a wonderful hope. If we are trying to be like Jesus, people will know that our lives are centered on God, and they know we want them to know our God and come and glorify Him. They should know that God has made such a good change in our lives. They see the difference in our morals and priorities.

Partnership or fellowship with those living in darkness and sin is not what sinners saw in Jesus or His true followers. They saw Jesus as light of righteousness, compassionate and merciful to those wanting and needing mercy, yet not compromising the standard of righteousness for friendship sake. It was a pure and holy life they saw in Jesus. They did not see Him as just one of the boys. We are the salt of the earth, to make a difference in the world for good, not to compromise God's truth.