The problem is with our definition of “them.” Even that pronoun indicates what’s wrong. “Them” indicates these are a different sort of people – maybe even a different class. That they are separate and apart. I suppose that’s true in a way – just as there were groups of people that lived on the fringes of society in Jesus’ day, so also are there those same kind of people in ours. And because the gospel message is for all, we must go to all. So, yes, it’s true there is a “them” today who we must reach. But in another way, when we think of these people as “them” we subconsciously think we are doing “them” a favor by going to them – almost as though we are willing to lower ourselves to reach out to those fringes. Thing is, though, we are the “them.”
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).
This is a relatively common scene in the Gospels. When we see Jesus there, we often see Him relating to folks in society that no one else would.
The woman of questionable reputation.
The outcasts and sinners.
Later in the Book of Luke, when Jesus encountered the diminutive tax collector, Zacchaeus, He not only spoke to him; Jesus claimed He was under some kind of divine imperative to do so:
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).
This was what Jesus came for. These people were the people He came for. This was – and remains – the mission of Jesus, as He would summarize just a couple of verses later:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
True to His mission, Jesus roamed throughout the countryside, seeking out and saving the lost. And those same lost sought Him out, coming in droves. The crowds that came to Jesus must have been some kind of sight – bedraggled, disheveled, downtrodden, mistreated, and neglected – but now finding a friend. And we see it happening as we read the New Testament.