“And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.”
– Matthew [9:10]
THE COMMON PERSON IS LOVED
I was asked once to help a dying church grow. Over the years, its membership had declined from three hundred congregants to just fifteen. The neighborhood in which the church was located had changed, and down the street, a homeless shelter had popped up. Half of the children in the town went to school hungry. Transients and young thugs appeared on the street corners. The church had begun to lock its doors to prevent theft or vandalism. Its circle of leaders had grown smaller, and those who remained were resistant to change. Slowly, the church had collapsed in on itself.
By the time I arrived to help revive the church, money was low and its leaders and congregants were worn out from their efforts to save their place of worship. I recruited some friends and a recent graduate of divinity school to help out with the cause. As a group, we felt that the mission of the church needed to be to address the needs of the neighborhood’s new population. We collected clothing donations and distributed them through the church.
We began preparing a free breakfast on Sunday mornings and eventually established a soup kitchen that provided free meals throughout each week. My friends prepared the meals in their homes early each morning, and I visited local restaurants to request food donations.
Soon, the pews were filling up each Sunday. Homeless moms with children would come to eat, then stay to attend church. Homeless men with significant substance abuse problems came as well. We became a haven for people who had nowhere else to turn.
Many old parishioners didn’t embrace the change and left, claiming their church had been ruined. They refused to break bread with the new members. Nevertheless, the new congregants loved the new pastor, who made an immediate positive impact on her parishioners.
Those who shunned the church’s new reality would not have met with Jesus’s approval. In fact, Jesus commonly dined with “sinners,” even tax collectors, who were among the most deeply and widely maligned of people. Sinners would approach Jesus to receive guidance and instruction—they desired a different path, but knew not how to find or travel it. They wanted to know how to live up to God’s values. Despite the fact that the religious elite openly criticized Jesus for his behavior, he was steadfast in his love for and acceptance of everyone, no matter the individual’s sins or occupation.
“Jesus didn’t give up on people who wanted a new life. He saw holiness in everyone, regardless of social status, race, or gender”
In reading today’s verse, in the first century, a “sinner” was considered to be anyone who was different from the religious elite. These sinners may have moved away from the values of God, but they might also have just been “common folk” who struggled and toiled to feed, clothe, and care for their families. Because they were perceived to be inferior by the elite, they were viewed as sinners. But, as we know, we are all sinners, even the highest in the social strata. The sinners Jesus broke bread with were just regular people who faced difficult circumstances.
Jesus didn’t give up on people who wanted a new life. He saw holiness in everyone, regardless of social status, race, or gender. He helped all those who wanted to be helped. While many of those he helped had self-inflicted wounds, many simply had challenging lives. But they all shared a common desire—a better life.
Today, the common folk, who are holy in Jesus’s eyes, work in mailrooms, serve food, deliver the paper early in the morning, wash floors late at night, and do what many others won’t. They might not wear the bright new clothes or have the latest iPhones, but are made in the image of God and are holy.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
How do we treat the “common” person?
Do we see what God sees or do we see what society tells us to see?
Can we look all people in the eye and show them care and compassion?