A Friend of Sinners – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester,

Occasionally, in Scripture we catch glimpses, not only of the words on the page and what they elicit, but what in a sense lies behind those words, on the other side of the page, as it were. Today is one such occasion.

Here in Matthew’s gospel, we are treated to rather vivid images of both John the Baptist, as well as Jesus. Here we see a wild eyed, somewhat mad, prophet of the desert who came neither eating nor drinking,[1] possessed surely with a demon. We see also his direct opposite, the itinerate preacher, party animal and carefree, and probably careless, womanizer and socializer, that glutton and … drunkard, … friend of tax collectors and sinners.[2]

Clearly both John and Jesus started a lot of tongues wagging, and the talk was not complimentary. There were a great many folks who did not like what they saw one bit. The problem was that what they saw went against what they expected, and that’s what we catch a glimpse of today on the other side of the page, especially when it came to Jesus. It was impossible that this glutton and drunkard could be the long-awaited messiah. He was little more than a son gone wild.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.[3]

What many saw in Jesus was not the messiah ushering in the messianic age where the deaf hear, the blind see, and the meek and needy rejoice.[4] What they saw was a stubborn, rebellious, disobedient son who brought shame to his parents and deserved death.

The paradox is that we know only too well that God comes to us in the least expected ways: by a man with a stutter,[5] in the sound of silence,[6] through deliverance by a young boy with a slingshot,[7] by a swim in a local river.[8] Yes, God comes to us in grand and magnificent gestures. And God comes to us in places where God mustn’t and shouldn’t be: in a town beyond the pale,[9] through the voice of a woman,[10] and in the guise of a glutton and drunkard.

We often want, I often want, God to come in grand and magnificent ways. The truth is the God who comes to us in Jesus comes as a tiny baby,[11] kneeling at the feet of his friends,[12] hanging on a cross crowned with thorns,[13] as a glutton and drunkard.

Perhaps our task this Advent is to lay aside our vision of a magnificent and dazzling breaking in of the kingdom of God, and look instead to the lonely, the outcast, and the forlorn, and there we will find God as a glutton and drunkard, the friend of tax collectors and sinners. And there we will find the long-awaited kingdom.

Lectionary Year and Proper: Advent 2, Year 1, Friday

[1] Matthew 11: 18

[2] Matthew 11: 19

[3] Deuteronomy 21: 18 – 21

[4] Isaiah 29: 18 – 19

[5] Exodus 4: 10

[6] 1 Kings 19: 12

[7] 1 Samuel 17

[8] 2 Kings 5: 1 – 17

[9] Mark 7: 24 – 30

[10] John 20: 11ff

[11] Luke 2

[12] John 13

[13] Matthew 27: 29

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  1. Susan Lindberg Haley on December 15, 2023 at 08:03

    Oh my! Thanks for connecting Jesus – that glutton and drunkard – with the Deuteronomy passage. I never noticed that before. Many of the people listening to Jesus that day would have made that connection. Good reminder that God comes to us in unexpected ways.

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