Grace for people who have messed up
June 3, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon
Mark 2:13-17 (NLT)
13 Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So, Levi got up and followed him. 15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
God uses whom God chooses, and God moves through folk who are willing to serve. God works through those who are open and humble; and God speaks through those who make themselves available to carry God’s Word.
Through the preacher, God gives proclamation, through the teacher, God gives illumination. Though the disciple, God develops discipline, through those in crisis, God brings out commitment.
Through the challenge, God builds character, and through the struggle, God shows strength. Through pain, God raises power and through hopelessness, God sends the Holy Spirit.
Yet God’s grace and God’s invitation to a Christ centered relationship is particularly extended to sinners, and people who have messed up.
Sinners according to Mark’s gospel are the focal audience of Jesus’s evangelism. And this invitation of inclusion is emphasized as Jesus says: “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Jesus invited Levi, (also known as Matthew) the tax collector to enter a relationship with him and to follow as a disciple. What must be noted is that tax collectors were viewed as traitors and thieves among their own people because they got rich working for the Romans in the earliest forms of a corrupt political system. Yet appearing as a top draft pick for “team Jesus” was someone who’s reputation was shady and who’s “Linked In” profile was a “known sinner.” And as if drafting Matthew weren’t enough, Jesus also went to a house party with other tax collectors and sinners!
And one may raise the question, didn’t Jesus care about ruining his credentials by hanging out with shady characters like sinful tax collectors? I believe he cared, but not in the way that you and I care. For he said: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Thus, the wow for me in the text lies in the inclusive word “sinners.” And it is only inclusive because Romans 3:23 (NIV) says: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The truth is, “sinners” refers to everyone; the folk at the dinner party who thought that they were better than everybody, the other tax collectors hanging out at the buffet table, and everybody else in earshot of this proclamation.
It is here that God’s saving Grace is being offered not just to the greedy but to the needy. This grace was packaged and wrapped particularly for folk who the “self-righteous” looked down on, and folk who knew they needed redemption but may have felt unworthy given their current lifestyle and vocation.
Because we are all sinners, saved by grace; Jesus offers us a chance of redemption and transformation that moves us from selfishness to Christlike expressions of inclusion and acceptance of all. It is this grace, extended to folk who have slipped up, fallen down, and messed up, that hope arises that acceptance and inclusion in our community and our world evolves. It is the Grace that comes to messed up people like you and me, who become transformed miracles. It is the Grace that comes to messed up people like you and me, who inspire and witness to “self-righteous and the sinners” of our world.
Jesus said: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
I am glad to have a savior who seeks sick people, sinners, and folk like me who have messed up.
Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon serves as a Minister of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Presbyterian Foundation. He is Pastor/Head of Staff at C.N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church, a thriving congregation dedicated to community service in Charlotte, N.C. He has served as a mentor to many young adults since being installed in September of 1992.