“The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’” (Luke 5:30).
Was struck this morning in my daily Bible reading concerning the phrase “tax collectors and sinners.” If we, that is the church (the body of Christ) that is now the presence of the ascended Jesus (that is his body in a place), how is it that we (not as individuals, which is a wholly modernist and ‘merican notion of church applied to the nature of the Christian life, i.e., replacing “wēs” with “I”) are not at a place--in a space--where we are accused of “eating and drinking” (there’s the idea of meals again) with “tax collectors and sinners”?
Instead, we are safely tucked into a building designed and with habits to distinguish who's in and who's out, where all leveling is errased, and we have power over guests; a place where we can escape being aligned with the “Son of Man” and being maligned as a gluttonous group and drunkards, friends “with tax collectors and sinners.” And, gathered in a space that is, in many places, not at all welcoming (easily accessible by design and by default) to “tax collectors and the sinners” to come near to find Jesus and to listen to him.
Now such association with the likes of these people and populations, that is the equivalent to “tax collectors and sinners,” is relegated to church programs outside of the practice (i.e., worship) of the body, to specialists and volunteers, and carefully guarded and designed events. (Don't get me wrong, I know it is important to have worship time—but the early church met in homes that allowed for a mixture of believing and unbelieving to be present, both around the table and within eye-sight and ear-shot.) I am impressed, however, with the idea, amid the wider reading of the New Testament, that this is a church problem, not a volunteer or scheduling problem.
These texts (and way too many like them, e.g., Matthew 9:9–13) are ignored as texts to be applied to the body of Christ (local). How does the body of Christ, not individual Christians severed, apart from the gathered body—on their own time and amid their own convictions and conscience and resources—but, the church be Jesus in this way so that “tax collectors and sinners” are seated at the table in his midst? Perhaps, then, we will, once again be accused of eating and drinking and associated with the marginal and despised, tax collectors and the sinners.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.