Saturday, November 26, 2011

Missing the People Forest

Title: Missing the People Forest
Date: 26 Nov 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Matt 9:10-11)

Missing the Forest for the Trees?
Matthew, the tax collector is in cloud 9. Feeling on top of the world, for once, he is accepted as a real person instead of being looked down. He has just struck a spiritual lottery: Dinner with Jesus! Not only that, it is the Rabbi, the Lord that everyone is talking about who has initiated the whole thing. It is an invitation too hard to refuse. It brings out a joy, and a generosity in him.

Wow! Dinner with Jesus. I’ve to invite all my tax friends to celebrate together!

A) Jesus’ Grace Promotes Open Generosity

So he gathers his friends. True joy is being able to share one’s happiness with people he knows and loves. He invites his tax collector friends to join in. He invites other ‘sinners’ to come. He displays a spirit of open generosity amid a climate of judgmental religiosity.

The guest of honor is Jesus. Let the party begin. Better than meeting top powerful kings and princes. Better than shaking hands with movie stars and pop singers. Better than crashing a party where everyone toes the same line or adopts a patronizing stance. After all, nice words are not necessarily true. Truthful words are not necessarily nice. The best thing is to be one’s true self, and to be accepted. Jesus’ big heart of grace makes it all possible.

B) The Pharisee’s Un-Grace Caps the Fizz of Joy

However, there is a problem. Like throwing a spanner into the works, the keepers of the law turn party poopers. Not wanting to disrupt the gathering, the watching Pharisees take the sly approach. They ask the disciples in an accusatory manner.
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

I wonder why the Pharisees didn’t disrupt the whole gathering like a religious policeman bashing through the door. Maybe they are afraid of rankling the ire of the tax collectors. Maybe they just want to be nice and to avoid an embarrassing confrontation with Jesus. Understandably, they have a bad track record for losing arguments with Jesus.

It is a known fact that tax collectors are despised in society then. After all, they make a living by charging an additional interest on top of everything else. Like collecting a few percent more on top of each person’s regular tax liability. Maybe for every $1, they charge $1.20. For every $99, they collect a few more dollars for themselves. It is not illegal. Just distasteful. After all, tax collectors are making the Roman Empire rich by taxing their fellow Jews. The normal thing is to shun such ‘traitors.’ Don’t eat with them. Don’t patronize them. Don’t play golf with them.

Why then is Jesus eating and drinking with these scums of society? This infuriates the Pharisees. Perhaps they are caught in the middle, like between a rock of the Law and a hard place of Jesus’ popularity. That is why they whisper. They speak softly, not to Jesus, but to his disciples. They want to play it safe. Their hardened hearts have blinded them to put principles before people, law before grace, and convictions before conversions. E. Stanley Jones speaks of such ‘negative’ people as follows.

They came all the way from Jerusalem to meet Him, and their life attitudes were so negative and faultfinding that all they saw was unwashed hands. They couldn’t see the greatest movement of redemption that had ever touched our planet – a movement that was cleansing the minds and souls and bodies of men. All they saw was a ritualistic infringement. Their eyes were open wide to the little and marginal and blind to the big.” (E. Stanley Jones)

C) Beware of Small Minds

Jones reminds us about the dangers of having a small mind. When we become fixated on the ‘I,’ we tend to miss the forest for the trees. When we are consumed with obeying laws, we tend to miss the spirit of the law. John Ortberg reminds us about missing the bigger picture.

I do not see how it would be possible to find a meaningful life in a meaningless universe. The only purpose that is worthy of life is something bigger than life itself.” (John Ortberg, Know Doubt, Zondervan, 2008, 33)

Beware of small minds that suffocate. Embrace a big heart and open mind to free ourselves from hypocrisy. Free ourselves from burdensome expectations that sees principles before people. Learn from Jesus, the man who comes to earth to save, but to punish. See Jesus’ considered and open response to the Pharisees secretive words.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

Yes. Let those of us who are sick, not call others ‘sick.’ Let us instead call upon Jesus, the Doctor and the Healer. Often, when we try to prescribe Jesus for others, it is us who need Jesus more. Big hearted faith comes only after we meet Jesus. Like Matthew the tax collector.


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