“How is it that He eats and drinks with publicans and sinners?” (Mark 2:16).
Strange company indeed! We say amongst men that “like draws to like,” but here we find that rule contradicted. What greater unlikes could be conceived than the sinless Saviour and publicans and sinners? Yet He saw fit to eat and drink with such. But in so doing He condescended in grace: He did not associate Himself with them. A fellowship that resulted from community of thought or feeling, and that would, therefore, have marred all testimony to holiness, was far from His mind.
Grace led Him to stoop, and hence He ate and drank with publicans and sinners,
The Pharisees, forsooth, were scandalised. The very essence of their religion consisted in external separation from sinners. That was the badge of their piety. Their motto was, “Stand by, for I am holier than thou” (Isa. 65:5); their self-complacent language, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men” (Luke 18:11). Subtract these two elements from their profession and you leave nothing but a broad phylactery. There was nothing either divine or rational in their religion.
And these were the people who took exception to this grace of the Lord Jesus! They it was who felt themselves insulted and ignored by the sympathy He deigned to show the publican and sinner
But, after all, what was the moral difference between the two classes? Was the distinction so enormous that no connection could be found? the gulf so large that no bridge could span it? Place a Pharisee and a publican side by side, and make a moral examination of the two men; analyse their hearts, search their inmost thoughts, and discover if the contrast is so great.
They are children, both of them, of fallen Adam; the heart of each is “desperately wicked”—the one follows a course of open sin, the other indulges it in the dark; the one is, at any rate, transparent in his folly, the other disguises it by his cloak of deceitful sanctity.
Which is the worse?
The gracious Lord condescended to eat with the sinner. Had He done otherwise He had cut all ground of hope from the Pharisee. A Pharisee is, after all, a sinner, though he may disdain the term, and the grace of Christ is his only hope. Yet he, alas! must say, “How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?” Better far adore the grace that led Him to do so.