By Matt Dawson
What Tax Collectors and Homosexuals Have in Common
Mark 2:15-16 “Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 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?’”
I’ve always been fascinated by these passages that list out sinners, but feel the need to IDENTIFY the tax collectors separately. I’ve studied enough of scripture to know WHY this is the case, but every time I read it – it always stands out.
Everyone (in that time) viewed “tax-collectors” as the WORST of all sinners. The religious community in that day decided that they would rank them separately (with emphasis) to make sure they weren’t lumped in with all the LESSER SINNERS (like those who simply broke one of the 613 laws that didn’t matter as much). They weren’t like the “other sinners” – they were WORSE.
I find this remarkably similar to this day and age when many in the religious communities refer to homosexuals (and all of those represented in the LGBTQ community) as a separate category of sinners.
I know people can be mad about this comparison (Matt – no one is BORN a tax collector…), but just indulge me for a moment as we consider what both the IDENTITY of the Tax Collector and the Homosexual have in common.
Behavior EQUALS Identity
There are FEW sinful behaviors that have risen to the place that someone becomes permanently labeled and marked as their identity. During Jesus’ time on earth, Tax Collector was ONE OF THEM. Today, it’s sins of sexual nature that seem to have their own category. The common ground is that BOTH identities are marked by the PRIMARY BEHAVIOR they represent. We see murderers, adulterers, pedophiles, etc. are also labels given to folks, but this is NOT an identity that the individual RECEIVES and EMBRACES.
Both Tax Collectors and Homosexuals EMBRACE and RECEIVE this identity as their own.
However, we won’t find “tax-collecting” as a list of sins anywhere in the New Testament. Being a Tax Collector was a combination of sins. Rebellion & betrayal against God’s people, lying, stealing, and some additional things that came along with that “lifestyle.” Homosexuality is listed as a sin, but also is described (Romans 1) as a rebellion and betrayal of God’s law. We label BOTH around the PRIMARY ACT it represents.
Just as we saw in Jesus’ day, we’ve decided to categorize the IDENTITY of the homosexual as a separate and shameful category of a sinner. I believe if the Bible were written TODAY, Mark’s verse would read “Jesus went to Levi’s home for dinner, along with many homosexuals and other sinners.”
Behavior DOES NOT EQUAL Identity
As Christ followers – this is CRUCIAL to understand for several reasons.
If we had to identify ourselves by our individualistic sinful decisions and behaviors – then I would be 15-20 (at least) different people every single day. Obviously we don’t do that – so we simply mark it under the umbrella of SIN. We understand when the book of Romans tells us that “we all fall short of the glory of God.”
We also have to remember that sexual sin is NOT categorized as a GREATER SIN. Paul tells us in his letter to the church in Corinth that ALL SEXUAL SIN does something specific (it hurts us, not just others), but he did not hold homosexuality out as something separate and therefore WORSE than all other sins. It’s ALL sexual immorality.
It’s as important that we remember that God gives us ALL an IDENTITY in CHRIST if we choose to follow Him. That means that my GIVEN IDENTITY is JESUS no matter what BEHAVIOR I’m involved in, or sin that I’ve committed, or will commit. If our behavior is our salvation…then we’re all screwed! Jesus made this very clear, hence WHY we needed a Savior!
Whatever identity we’ve been GIVEN or have EMBRACED and RECEIVED does not carry with it the FULL WEIGHT of the sin it represents. My daughter has a friend in school who identifies as GAY. This does not mean that he’s actually done anything SINFUL. He’s 11 – so I can’t be sure, but after meeting him and hearing about him, I sincerely doubt it. Just as someone who says they are a CHRISTIAN doesn’t actually mean they are living for Christ – we cannot allow a GIVEN or RECEIVED identity to be the only measurement we use.
Remember, Jesus was GIVEN the label “drunkard, glutton, and friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man, (a title Jesus used for himself) on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”
Our TRUE identities will define the lives we live. Jesus said that WISDOM would be seen in the results of one’s life.
The Power of Identity
This Sunday, we will be doing a very special message that discusses the POWER of our identity and the results of how it affects our lives. Not only for those who IDENTIFY themselves by the labels, assessments, and past experiences in their lives – BUT THE IDENTITY GIVEN to us by Jesus and the FREEDOM we have to live in it!