What resonated with me from the passage, however, was its brief introduction. (I can thank Fr. Jason in part for this because of his excellent sermon.)
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
I can't even recall how many times I have heard variations on this theme. Once, as I was presenting at a formation meeting for the Secular Franciscan Order, an attendee pulled me aside afterward and informed me that "Franciscans don't wear earrings." I have also fielded questions regarding hanging out at bars, acknowledging my sexuality with integrity, my sense of humor, having friends of all sorts, and on and on ad nauseam.
You, too. I know you have stories like that.
Fr. Jason quoted Pope Francis in his homily yesterday: "The shepherd needs to smell like the sheep." That's true for us, too. How can we expect to reach the tax collectors of our day if we refuse to associate with them? What credibility would you have with a club kid or a prostitute if you are too repulsed to seek them out?
"Holiness" denominations, as well as Baptists and many Evangelicals, go to great lengths to maintain an image of "holiness" and "purity." It looks great on the outside, but I wonder how effective that strategy is in finding those lost sheep? How successful are they at finding lost coins if they won't venture into dark corners?
If your faith is not transforming you and making you a kinder, more loving person, you are wasting your time. If love does not flow freely enough through you to get the "sheep smell" on your clothes, you are wasting your energy. Because what is the Christian faith, but transformation?
If you never draw the condemnation of the classic "church lady" Pharisee for stepping out of line, you are not doing your job.
If you're afraid to smell like sheep, you'll never be able to carry the lost one home.