Eating with Sinners

By Kathy Ferguson Litton

Jesus ate with sinners. Repeatedly.

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.Luke 15: 1-2

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?Matthew 9:10-11

What does this tell us?

Sinners were important to Jesus.

Eating meals with sinners was important to Jesus.

What does this tell me?

I should be like Jesus.

On a glorious, unforgettable tour of Italy this summer Ed and I traveled with group of complete strangers. Most of them sinners. Our trip began with a get-acquainted cocktail party in beautiful hotel in Rome. Trust me when I say our cocktail party skills are a bit rusty, like non-existent. I’ll confess a bit of trepidation entering that scene. That evening we begin interacting with 20 other wonderful human beings on a daily basis with little in common except a tour company. Amidst all the art and beauty of Italy when trip ended one of our greatest highlights were the people we traveled with.

We ate with sinners and we were completely refreshed by it.

They knew nothing of our vocations, lifestyles or spiritual leanings. Many had never even heard of a Southern Baptist. (One lady confessed she googled (THE) SBC because she knew nothing about it.) And they cared about none of those things. They saw us through no lens except our interactions with them.

So we made small talk like real people do. The subjects: food, art, the daily Gelato discovery, our children, world affairs, leather purses in Florence, travel, family and yes, even faith and our Creator God. It was life giving to Ed and I.

Unfortunately this was rare occasion for us. Which really begs this question, one that quite frankly haunts us:

If Jesus did this regularly and we do this rarely, what is the problem?

Here are a few of our problems:

  • Ministry life as most of us know if left un-attended will be a sequestered life. Yet that was not the example of Jesus.
  • Most of us have few organic relationships with sinners and few portals to even create those relationships. Yet Jesus did.
  • We fear spending time with sinners because their food, drink, activities or lifestyles might become controversial for us. Yet Jesus was smeared by the religious community but continued to pursue and build
    relationships with sinners.
  • Sinners are messy. Yet Jesus did not flinch in loving adulterers, cheaters, rich and poor, broken or shamed. Evidently He was driven TO their brokenness and not away from it.
  • Our calendar reflects our values. Yet Jesus told about leaving the 99 and going for the one lost sheep. Even throwing out this powerful statement, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” The 99 are consuming our time.

Is it shocking that those of us called to take gospel to sinners can’t because of the 99 just? That’s a problem.

Jesus had a mission statement. And it wasn’t just on the wall.

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.Mark 2:17

Jesus’ mission in eating with sinners is clearly stated in verses above. He wasn’t trying to be real, relevant or a rebel. His mission was and is repentance. Yet He did that up close with intentionally and in genuine love. Ask Zacchaeus.

How do we leap over the unexpected barriers that ministry produces to eat with sinners?

Not in theory but in practice.

We must.

Published November 10, 2014

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Kathy Ferguson Litton

Kathy lives in Mobile, Alabama, with her husband Ed, pastor of Redemption Church. Both lost former spouses in car accidents, and God uniquely gave them new love and life together in 2009. Kathy enjoyed 26 years of life and ministry alongside Rick Ferguson. She has three children and ten grandchildren. Presently she serves as Director of Planting Spouse Development.