One of the most familiar and often quoted passage in the Gospels is Luke 5:29-32. There it tells the story of Jesus going to Levi, the tax collector’s house for dinner. At this dinner were other despised tax officials, prostitutes and other people considered rift-raft. This familiar passage’s obvious lesson is that Jesus loves sinners . . . scum! Christian societies often consider sinners to be scum, and sometimes we feel that way about ourselves. However, this encouraging story says the opposite.
There is another lesson buried in this passage. Jesus teaches in such a loving manner that sinners feel comfortable eating with Him. The “scum” at Levi’s dinner do not scurry away for fear of disapproval. They do not cringe under a withering eye of judgment. They sit with Jesus, share dinner, and listen to His whole message of love and repentance.
Jesus teaches unconditional love. But, as loving as He is, He also teaches the need for repentance. He does not separate His love for us from our need to turn away from our sin. In Christian communities today that separation seems to be growing. We concentrate on being tolerant and inclusive, but we shrink away from the whole truth by neglecting to preach the Gospel of spiritual revolution! Jesus does not short-change His listeners.
Are we too focused in our church on love and acceptance at the expense of neglecting the need to repent from our sin? Or, are we so focused on sin that sinners do not attend for fear of disapproval and judgment? We must be loving in our approach but firm in the fundamentals. It is a delicate balance.