But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”Mark 2:16 LB
I once remarked mostly to myself, “Why would Jesus eat with scum?” My friend who overheard myself talk, quickly reminded me that Jesus didn’t think of people as scum. The text is simply reflecting the view of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, in particular the Pharisees.
The Living Bible is a paraphrase of the Greek. The Greek word “scum” is ἁμαρτωλῶν (hamartolon) which is usually translated as “sinner,” though scum is not incorrect. For the Jews, eating a meal together at a table signified close fellowship. To eat with people was to share in their life and to allow them into yours as well. The Pharisees, who were committed to the highest standards of ritual purity, would never eat with people who were soiled by their impurity. As He was a religious teacher, they would have expected Jesus to do as they did—keeping His distance from “scum” or any person of questionable character.
Jesus ate with “scum” because He didn’t perceive people as essentially filthy. He also had zero concern for preserving an appearance of religiosity. He ate with sinners because they needed His help, and because they were open to receiving Him.
In choosing who we fellowship with, are we imitating Jesus’ example or that of the Pharisees? Consider your friends. Are any of them “questionable” characters? This story challenges me to think of my own attitudes and behavior. Am I more concerned about what people think of me than I am about people in need? Do I ever think of anyone as “scum?” Or do I see those around me with the loving eyes of Jesus? Am I willing to “get my hands dirty” by entering relationships with people who aren’t so neat and tidy?
Jesus gives all of us the boldness to reach out to all people with your love and grace, no matter how others might think.