“Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him. Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?’
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders’.” Matthew 9:9-13 (MSG)
In the course of His ministry, Jesus walked by a man named Matthew. As Matthew was going about collecting taxes, Jesus did not just see a tax collector sitting at his post. He saw a man who could make a difference in the world for God. At the invitation to follow Jesus, Matthew’s response was immediate. Yet, in that day, tax collectors were not liked by the Jewish people. Many of them exhorted the people and kept the extra money for themselves. Why would Jesus invite a person like Matthew to follow Him? Because Jesus is not waiting for people to tidy their lives in order to come to Him. He sees their heart. But from outward appearances, Jesus’ association with the tax collectors outraged the Pharisees. How could a religious person associate with them? Jesus was more concerned about reaching out and offering an invitation to experience real life in Him.
In our lives, it can be too easy for us to stand back like the Pharisees and point the finger. We want people to have tidy Christianity, but we can be unsure if we want them to have Jesus. We can get so caught up in how it looks that we forget the heart of the matter: being right before God. We want it to look a certain way, so we get busy “tidying.” Although our intentions might be good, our friend who needs Jesus can become confused in a tangle of legalism. As Jesus works in someone’s life, He changes them. Yet, sometimes we want to minimize the heart change that only Jesus can do into a list of things to do and not to do.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT), it says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Jesus is extending an invitation to all people to find salvation in Him. Let’s set the broom and dust pan aside and give tidy a rest. In the meantime, let’s love people to Jesus. As you recall, that’s how we came to know Him in the first place. Loving Jesus is a little less tidy and a little more messy. It might look like reading His Word and discovering you need to forgive that friend who wronged you. It might require you to talk with your neighbor who is really in a tough spot and needs Jesus. It might mean finding the person that no one will talk to, because it would tarnish their reputation. It might mean loving someone to Jesus, even though they are struggling to break free from their life controlling addiction.
Knowing Jesus does not ignore the realities of the human experience. Rather, walking with Jesus is a process of becoming less like we once were and more like Jesus. Jesus is who I need and who our friends need. When we put tidy Christianity as the focus, our version of “tidy Christianity” just stands in the way of the real thing.
Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.