The Pharisees and scribes are mad as heck and they aren’t going to take it anymore. For years now, they’ve watched as Jesus drew crowds numbering in the thousands to hear him speak. They paid attention as he entered the homes of all sorts of people for dinner. They noticed the types of folks who had close access to Jesus, and they couldn’t wrap their minds around just how these people could be welcomed by Jesus. In the NRSV, their reaction is “grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them,'” but it seems as though there is something even more sinister going on.
The Greek words that gets translated as “welcomes” is probably better translated with an older word, “receives.” Whereas welcome carries with it images of the multi-billion dollar hospitality industry, with its fake plants and even faker smiles, the idea of receiving someone seems to carry a deeper meaning. There was a time, not too long ago, when receiving lines were still a part of the social norm in this country. Now mostly relegated to State Dinners, the receiving line is a chance not just to allow someone access to your home, but to invite them into a relationship.
Jesus received sinners and tax collectors. He gave them access to himself. He touched them, hugged them, shared meals with them, and cared for them. The verb tense tells us that Jesus was in the habit of this sort of behavior. He risked his own purity in order to receive into himself all sort of people; including you and me.
One of the big topics in the Church today is the ministry of hospitality. My friend Mary Parmer has almost singlehandedly brought this to the fore through Invite, Welcome, Connect. You should totally check it out, but I can’t help but wonder if we are selling ourselves short by settling to be a welcoming congregation, when, to follow the example of Jesus would be as a receiving church. Welcoming a stranger doesn’t run the same level of risk of being changed by them as does receiving one. Are we willing to be changed? Will we risk contamination, open our doors, and receive into our lives the sort of people that Jesus spent time with? Can we move past the gloss of welcome into the depth of reception?