For around four years I was the Intake Supervisor at the Memphis Housing Authority. My group was responsible for interviewing applicants called off the waiting list to make sure they qualified for rental assistance. Contrary to what most Americans seem to believe, our clients did not get free housing. To qualify, they had to have jobs and pay a portion of their rent. We paid the rest. Most of the clients I interacted with worked a minimum wage job, some single moms worked two minimum wage jobs but even with rental assistance from the Housing Authority, they still made so little that they also qualified for EBT cards (food stamps). It troubles me that so many people look down upon those who are just trying to survive.
So I was reminded of my former clients when I read in Mark 2:15-17 this morning. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus dined in the house of a known sinner and ate alongside numerous sinners. The Greek word translated as “sinner” is αμαρτωλός (pronounced: hamartolos). The Pharisees used that word to describe both people who committed Biblical sins and people who were not Jews or “common” Jews who did not obey all the extra-biblical rules the self-important Pharisees had established. It was kind of like the way some Baptists and Southern Methodists thought of other Christians in the 1950s who went to “sinful“ places like dances and movie theaters.
Jesus replied to the Pharisees in this manner: "You Pharisees claim to be righteous and to have no need for repentance and salvation. But these tax collectors and sinners realize their need for repentance and salvation. So who do you think I’m going to spend my time with?"
I believe that true followers of Jesus should be as much like him as they possibly can be. And that means we have a similar responsibility to the outcasts of society: the poor, the homeless, the ignored. Jesus was not above ministering to such people, even going so far as to visit them in their homes. Should we be any different? Are we who profess to love Christ above ministering to and mingling with the people whom Jesus loves? I am thankful that the two churches Connie and I spent most of our time at since we moved to metro-Memphis, Community Bible Church in Memphis and St. Luke Lutheran in Cordova have no problem mingling and dining with and ministering to “the least of these who are members of my family” (Matthew 25:40)
If you are looking for a church that loves and cares about and cares for people who are not perfect, you should check these churches out. Fair warning though, they will ask you to pick up your cross and go where Jesus went. You would probably be happier some place else if you just want to butt-warm a pew.