As I re-read our Gospel text for this week, from Matthew, I started to feel some sympathy for the Pharisees. I know, I know. They're always the ones getting it most wrong. But, like them, I feel responsibility for drawing the lines about what Christian behavior should look like.
Trouble is, as we noticed last week, the most important stuff is impossible to see. And Christ is inviting us into a whole new way of living, full of mercy and emptied of rigid adherence to things that we think make us righteous. That's tricky to do. I mean: the last thing I want to say is that following Christ is easy. It should take sacrifice. There's a lot of stuff in this world that we need to be careful about resisting, and a lot of virtues we're called to in God that are less than convenient.
So, these Pharisees are worried about the kind of people Jesus is hanging out with. Sometimes, I worry about the kind of people I hang out with. There are reasons to surround ourselves with people whose lives seem to be good role models for our own.
I suspect Jesus was noticing that there's also a danger in this: that we'll surround ourselves with people who we think are good role models, as if we're all righteous, and isolate ourselves from others. This is dangerous for a bunch of reasons: it cheapens the power of God's grace when we assume that our religious communities are already for people who've gotten their act together (as if you need to be perfected before you're welcome in the church), and because it makes us blind to the sin we hold. Like thinking that we've got it all together, and that we're so much better than those "sinners" over there. And thinking that we know how to draw the lines of who is a righteous person and who is a sinner. Or what is on the list of sins that would qualify a person to be known by that sin.
So, recognizing that I've got some sympathy for the Pharisees, I wonder who Jesus was talking about when he said, "I came to call not the righteous but the sinners." Maybe all those bits that are like a Pharisee in me are just what he meant.