This past weekend we talked about Mark 2: 13+ where Jesus comes and calls Levi to follow and then goes to Levi's house where Jesus eats with Levi's friends. Jesus annoys the Pharisees by doing this - they ask, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
Some suggest that Jesus didn't really just hang out with "sinners". Perhaps he was only hanging out with those who had decided to change or were in some way in the midst of changing their lives because of the invitation to the gospel. The Pharisees were wrong, these were not sinners but repentant sinners.
My belief is the opposite. That Jesus did really just go hang out with "unsavory" people. That he did not put conditions on he presence with them but simply wanted to be in relationship with people. They did not have to acknowledge they were wrong, or ask for forgiveness or change. Jesus was with them as they were. This does not mean that Jesus approved of everything that every person did. Rather, it means that Jesus prioritized relationships over conduct. In other words, it is more important to just get to know people as they are, then to worry if they are doing something wrong that you should help them change.
This is really the key to Calvary UMC and my call as your pastor. When we proclaim our mission, "Accepting all through the Unconditional Love of God", we proclaim that caring for people and being in relationship with each other is more important than defining actions as right/wrong.
This image is one I fell in love with on the web. I can't find who made it, so if you are a good google digger please help me find the artist who did this. I love it because it translates the image of Jesus eating with Levi and his friends into today's world. How else would it look for Jesus to eat with sinners? Scandalous, yes, but thats who Jesus was -- God help us to find ourselves in pictures like this.