Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Homily for Wednesday Week 24

by Fr. Tommy Lane

“Friend of sinners.” (Luke 7:34) A beautiful description of Jesus, to our way of thinking. But when some of Jesus’ contemporaries gave him that name they did not mean it as a compliment, rather as an insult. But Jesus, by befriending sinners, was able to do so much more for them than those who condemned. When Jesus befriended sinners, they changed. Their hearts melted before Jesus. They left sin behind and expanded their hearts to make room for Jesus. We see this happening a number of times in the gospels. Just after today’s gospel passage (Luke 7:31-35), we read about Jesus having dinner in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). Simon had not shown the expected welcome to Jesus but a sinner woman came in who more than made up for Simon’s lack. Her sins were forgiven and she showed much love to Jesus. The condemning attitude of Simon the Pharisee did not help her grow out of her sinfulness, it was the love of Jesus that helped her move beyond her sinfulness. In the next chapter we read of another woman, Mary Magdalene from whom seven demons had been driven out (Luke 8:2). She went to Jesus’ tomb early on Easter Sunday morning to anoint his body (Luke 24:10).

“Friend of tax collectors.” (Luke 7:34) That description of Jesus by some of his contemporaries was also meant to be pejorative. But when Jesus befriended tax collectors their hearts also melted before him and made room for him. One of them was Levi or Matthew who even became one of the twelve apostles and in the early church was said to be the author of the Gospel bearing his name (Luke 5:27-28). Another was Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). The people of Jericho grumbled while Jesus dined with him but afterwards Zacchaeus was totally transformed. Luke does not tell us if the same could be said for his fellow townspeople.

People responded to Jesus in different ways. Some, unfortunately as we heard in the gospel today, did not accept Jesus (Luke 7:34). But those who did accept him were transformed and grew and blossomed. I think Luke is saying to his readers that we have a choice. Reject Jesus and lose out, or accept Jesus and receive more than we can even begin to imagine. There is so much more God offers us than we are even capable of comprehending. We get a hint of this in our first reading (Year 2) when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about what awaits Christians in the next life,

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. (1 Cor 13:12)

Jesus stands before each of us, and offers us his friendship. The more we accept Jesus’ offer, the more we are transformed to become what we are meant to be. Jesus’ offer of friendship is accepted by spending time with him, just as did all the characters in the gospel who became Jesus’ friends. Jesus’ offer of friendship is accepted by opening our hearts wide to allow Jesus in without fear or obstacles. Accepting Jesus’ friendship empowers us to do what others would never dream possible for us. Accepting Jesus as our friend, frees us from baggage of the past, so that we can live the life of Jesus fully now.

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2014

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.