God Puts Ears On Sinners, So They Would Listen

Text: Luke 15:1-10

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

In Luke chapter fifteen, we encounter two groups of people.  In one group, we meet sinners and tax collectors – a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  And in the other group, we encounter Scribes and Pharisees – a religious elite drinking tea with their pinky in the air.  And right there, in the middle of these two groups, we find Jesus. 

So, what does Jesus do with these two groups? 

Well, it is pretty simple. Jesus welcomes the sinners and tax collectors.  He welcomes them and eats with them. 

But as can be expected, the religious elite did not like this.  They began to grumble at Jesus’ acceptance of the ragamuffins of the day.  Keep in mind that Jesus not only welcomed these sinners, but He also rubbed shoulders with them by eating with them.  Jesus lowered Himself to the level of people who were not highly regarded in society – people who were often ostracized and regarded as outcasts by the religious elite. 

Now, this is where we must be cautious as a church and as Christians. Permit me an opportunity to explain what I mean. 

Right now, our culture and many churches are playing this same silly game too but with slightly different rules. As you know, in our culture, people are being segmented into tribalistic groups.  People are separated and categorized according to their status, sexual preferences, race, income, intellect, politics, and so forth.  Yes, our culture is very tribalistic right now. We have put everyone into neat little tribes with neat little labels. And these labels?  They rank some tribes high and other tribes low. For example, those who are of a certain ethnicity, sexual preference, and economic status should be ostracized, scorned, and avoided.  On the other hand, others who do not fit these criteria and fit different criteria should be shown favoritism, support, and embraced.  And if you disagree with the tribal standards, you are breaking the rules, and will suffer severe consequences.   

But dear friends, what our current culture is doing is the same thing that the Pharisees and Scribes were doing some two thousand years ago. It is the same game but with slightly different rules.

You see, we can’t help it, as it seems.  We, humans, love to categorize and rank people into little tribal groups.  Once ranked, some groups are in; some groups are out.  And depending on where you live and in what time period you live in, the tribal groups are constantly changing.  For example, again, in the first-century, if you were a Roman Citizen, the Greeks were better than the Jews.  But if you were a Jew, the Jews were better than the Greeks. Again, silly tribalistic games where we give or don’t give value to certain groups of people.

But didn’t Jesus welcome the sinners and tax collectors, showing that He was selective towards outcasts?  Again, we must be careful in how we understand this.  If we misunderstand this, we can make the same mistake as one of my former churches.

In a previous Church that I served, there were several prime families and members that felt the church was a bit too cozy.   They were of the mindset that the church was full of religious elites, which meant that the doors needed to be opened wider to evangelize ‘sinners.’ If I am not mistaken, the buzzword that was being used was ‘missional.’  The church needed to be more ‘missional’ towards sinners.  In other words, the criticism was that the church needed to embrace more cussing oil workers, more crass plumbers, more rough blue-collar families, and a few drug addicts.  Supposedly the church was too stuffy and comfortable with religious people, and it needed to be shaken up with messy people.

Sigh, we must understand that Jesus did not welcome the tax collectors exclusively because they were outcasts.  Likewise, Jesus did not challenge the Pharisees exclusively because they were elite.   

Remember what the Apostle Paul said about all of this?  He says in the book of Galatians that,

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.“

Paul is showing us that in the Christian faith: status, sex, ability, class, and so forth contribute nothing to justification. 

What this means is that Jesus does not prefer a plumber over a banker.  He does not like an oil worker over a school teacher.  And He does not choose a tax collector over a Pharisee. 

When the Gospel reading tells us that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, it is not indicating that every generation needs to exclusively search out their generation’s ostracized group to welcome the outcast and eat with them. When Jesus ate with tax collectors, He was not trying to be woke or display a virtue signal.  He was not even trying to make a political scene.  (Keep in mind that there were Pharisees who were welcomed by Jesus, such as Nicodemus. And I am sure there were plenty of tax collectors who rejected Jesus as well.)  The point being, Jesus welcomed tax collectors and sinners not because of who they were but because they listened to Him.  Listen to verse one, one more time:

“Now, all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.”

Now, did you hear that? Jesus welcomed the outcasts not because they were outcasts but because they listened to Him. 

Someone once said before, “God put ears on sinners so that they would listen.”

But why ‘sinners’? 

The answer is because only those who know they are sinners can genuinely listen. 

Remember those Pharisees and Scribes with their pinkies in the air?  They could not listen to Jesus because they were too busy complaining about Jesus while soaked in their own pride. 

You see, it is tough to hear when you are busy complaining.  It is tough to use your ears to hear when you are loudly using your mouth to grumble against Christianity. 

And that is precisely the point of Christianity.  Christianity is for sinners who listen.  Sinners listen because their mouths are shut – they have nothing to say before Christ because they know they are poor miserable sinners in thought, word, and deed.

But the way of the Pharisees?  Well, they could not keep their mouths shut.  They were either complaining about other people, yapping about their own greatness, or defending their own puny attempts at looking like they were righteous. They could not stop talking because they are compelled to convince others and themselves that they were not sinners but righteous.  It is impossible to repent and believe when one's mouth is open and one's ears are closed.

Dear friends, we sin greatly if we think that St. Paul’s is for a certain type of person.  This altar, this font, and this pulpit are not for a particular tribe – those of a certain status, sexual preferences, race, income, intellect, or political affiliation.  This church is not for the elite or the oppressed.  We don’t get into these silly tribalistic games here.  All of these tribalistic ideas miss the whole point of Jesus and the Gospel.  Christ and His Gospel are not for that tribal group or this tribal group – it is for one group only - those who listen. And you are only able to hear when you know you are a sinner. 

This is why Christianity is best represented by the human ear, not the human hand or mouth. 

You and I know that Jesus does not accept us because we do all sorts of good works with our hands and feet.  And we know that Jesus does not accept us for our blabbering mouths, speaking about our greatness, excusing away our sins, or when we talk down other people as if we are better than them.  But instead, Jesus accepts us because He puts ears on us so that we might listen to Him. 

And so, we come to this church again this day to simply listen. And as we listen, we hear that Jesus welcomes repentant sinners like you and me too.  Jesus welcomes you and me and speaks into our ears,

“You were a lost and condemned person, but I redeemed you.  I purchased and won you from all sins, death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with My holy and precious blood and with My innocent suffering and death - that you may be My own.” 

You, who have ears, hear today. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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