One of the most beautiful truths about Jesus is the way he received people and the way people felt comfortable with him. In Luke 15:1-2, we see this played out in a rather dramatic way. First, the outcasts, the failures, especially the religious failures, were coming to Jesus, and not only listening to Him, but actually straining to hear what he had to say. Something about Jesus made them feel at home not condemned, accepted and welcomed not scrutinized. Jesus treated broken people like old friends. They wanted to know more. Second, the Pharisees seized Jesus’ love as their longed-for proof that Jesus could not possibly be from God. “This man receives sinners, and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). You can almost hear the Pharisees’ gnarling, sardonic whispers, ‘Ha! Some man of God you are.’
The assumption of the Pharisees and of their whole religion is that God could not receive sinners, and certainly never eat with them. For eating with someone is an act of intimacy, fellowship and solidarity. Thus Jesus could not possibly be connected to God in any way. The Pharisees of every generation cannot cope with Jesus’ oneness with the Father. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). For such a oneness and unity simply means that what Jesus does, the Father does, and what the Father does, Jesus does. “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing…” (John 5:19-20).
So the act of Jesus, summed up by the Pharisees’ accusation, “This man receives sinners, and eats with them,” is either the living expression of the Father’s heart and being, (the ultimate truth about God and humanity, and thus the gospel) or it is a glitch in the otherwise ongoing oneness between the Father and Son, a sort of momentary act of independence, dissimilarity and disunity on Jesus’ part, and thus an act that cannot be trusted as a reliable expression of the Father’s heart at all.
It seems to me that while confessing the oneness of Jesus and his Father, almost all of Western Christianity operates with the Pharisee’s assumption that God could not possibly receive sinners and eat with them. Hence we cannot see that the presence of Jesus is in fact just that, the act of God in person receiving sinners and eating with them. Jesus is the Father’s Son standing in the far country of human brokenness and religious pride. He is the living embodiment of the Father searching the cosmos for us, finding us and receiving us into his life.
Just like his Father, this man receives sinners and shares life with them. Indeed this man’s very existence as the Father’s Son incarnate is the living embodiment of the Father receiving sinners, pharisees, and the lost children of Adam to himself. In Jesus we are received and embraced by the Father forever.
We either live with the assumption that this embrace cannot be so, and thus doom ourselves to the emptiness of religion, the pride of the Pharisees, or the sadness of the failures, or we believe Jesus and learn to live embraced by his Father.
Come, Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth and adoption.