In a world that increasingly focuses on instant results and big returns, a person who witnesses to ten people and makes only one convert might not be viewed as being an effective witness. Yet, Jesus saw few genuinely committed converts during His earthly ministry, and He often spent time with outcasts.
In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one returned, giving glory to God
In Jewish society, that leper was doubly an outcast. In addition to having leprosy, he was also a Samaritan. "The Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually." In fact, the Jews were openly hostile to the Samaritans, and even went out of their way to avoid traveling through Samaritan territory.
Although huge crowds followed Jesus, listening to His teaching and benefiting from His miracles, Jesus often ministered one on one. He purposely traveled through Samaria on His Father's business, to speak with the Samaritan woman at the well. She, too, was doubly an outcast, having been married five times, and then living with a man out of wedlock (John 4:18).
Matthew 11:19 records that Jesus was criticized for being "a friend of tax collectors and sinners"
Jewish tax collectors were employed by the Romans to collect taxes for the government. Their fellow Jews hated them and considered them traitors. In addition, tax collectors were notorious for their dishonesty, often demanding more money than what was owed, and pocketing the rest for themselves. They were expelled from the synagogue and could not serve as witnesses or as judges. Their disgrace extended even to their families.
However, in Luke 19:1-10, Jesus not only spoke to Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, but also told him, "'I must stay at your house today.'" When the crowd muttered, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner,'" Jesus acknowledged Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham--which His fellow Jews refused to do--and He stated, "'The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost'" (Luke 19:10).
Although a large crowd was following Jesus, when Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi (also called Matthew), He chose Levi to follow Him and become one of His disciples (Mark 2:14). Jesus went home with Levi and had dinner with many other tax collectors and "sinners," much to the consternation of the Pharisees.
Once again, Jesus addressed their criticism of Him. "'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners'" (2:17).
In Luke 7, we find Jesus visiting at a Pharisee's house, when another outcast, a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town, knelt at His feet
She proceeded to wet His feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair, and then she kissed His feet and poured perfume on them. The Pharisees, of course, would never have allowed her to come near them.
Years later, after Jesus had ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, His half-brother James warned believers not to show favoritism to the rich and powerful, but to treat everyone with respect. He reminded them, "'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (James 2:8).
If we find ourselves viewing someone as an outcast, or as being of lesser importance or value than others, may we remember that from God's point of view, all of us were once outcasts, separated from God by our sins. Yet, His Son did not think us worthless and untouchable.
Howard W. Stevens
© by Howard W. Stevens
Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 1691.
All Scripture verses are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Archaeological Study Bible, 1567.