During the ministry of Jesus, there were groups of people who were marginalized. Those groups of people on the "margin" or "outside" of the main group often felt alone. Today there are still marginalized people in churches. What do we do about them?
A. If you walked around Palestine in the days of Jesus you would meet many different types of people. We are familiar with the names of some types – Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, priest; you know, the religious people. Jesus sometimes had dinner with a few of these people – Jesus many not have been liked, but he was popular and therefore good for a dinner party guest.
B. Then you have the majority of the Jews, the hard working “Jewish middle class” so to speak. This group is made up of people that often surrounded Jesus. They were the common people, the hard workers like the fisherman, farmers, craftsmen, housewives and most people you would find around Galilee and Judea. Many of these people followed Jesus and some even claimed to be disciples, but would leave him when the teachings of Jesus got tough,
C. But then there were the “outcasts.” The Hebrew word “anawim” originally meant materially poor, but over time that word encompassed the idea of the “downtrodden, the outcast, the voiceless people who had no influence.” It is this group of people that were marginalized. Like many, they felt alone, uncared for, unwanted.
I. Jesus and the Marginalized
A. The reading this morning is the calling of the apostle Matthew, or Levi, depending upon which Gospel account you read. Matthew was a tax collector, most likely well off financially, but limited on associates. While we would not think of him as the “downtrodden” he is a part of the group people that others distanced themselves from.
B. If you are familiar with the story of Zacchaeus, you remember that he wanted to see Jesus, but being short, people intentionally kept him from doing want he wanted to do. It forced him to be undignified, to run ahead and climb a tree just to get the chance to see Jesus.
C. But our text lists tax collectors and sinners in the same group. How many people want to be listed with “the sinners?” That combination “tax collectors and sinners” is used several times in the New Testament, and on one occasion the Jesus tells the religious leaders that the “tax collectors and prostitutes” will enter the kingdom of God before them.
D. But my point is not Matthew or tax collectors. My point is to think about how Jesus treated the people that were marginalized; the people on the social outer rim. I am sure you can think of story where Jesus eats with such people, speaks of the faith of sinful women, touches lepers, heals the blind and befriends the friendless.
E. Do you recognize this verse? (Is. 61:1-2) It is the portion of scripture Jesus reads in his hometown of Nazareth in Luke 4. Jesus says that what Isiah said has come true in him. Jesus came to reclaim the poor in spirit, the downtrodden, and the outcast.
F. When he ate with Matthew at his home, the religious leaders questioned the other disciples about what Jesus was doing. Did you catch that? They didn’t come to Jesus, they sought to divide. They wanted the disciple of Jesus to look down upon Jesus for what he was doing with the sinful people of their day. But when Jesus heard their comments Jesus gets in their face, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but only the sick.” That was said with sarcasm by the way. The Pharisees only thought they were “well,” Jesus saw them differently. But then he tells them, “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners.”
II. The Marginalized Today
A. Now, let’s take this and think about it in today’s setting. We start by asking the question, “Who are the marginalized?” In society we often start with the poor, the homeless, the chronic sick. We might go to groups of people like children or senior citizens or those who are single for any reason. They are people who simply don’t have much of a voice in society.
B. It may be their profession is looked down upon or that their life doesn’t measure up to the standards we hold. For whatever reason they are “less than.”
C. What did Jesus do with people that didn’t fit in? Let me ask you to think about that as you decide on what to do with people that don’t fit in – whether in this congregation or your personal life.
D. The place Jesus started was personal interaction. Whether it was Matthew, a woman at a well, or children who were brought to him; Jesus interacted with them. Most people want true relationships – but that emotional investment is not always easy. Some people are simply more draining than others. But what are we to do with such people? Jesus told the Pharisees to go and learn what it means that God desires mercy not sacrifice. Personal interaction with people who don’t fit may be a sacrifice of your time, but when you open your heart, it is mercy you extend.
E. Second, meet their needs. James 1:26-27. I think I am religious. But if my mouth gets in the way of my action my religion is worthless. When James talks about the widows and orphans what that means for us are people who are vulnerable. People whom the world often mistreats or neglects. That can happen in the church without evil intent. Sometimes I am simply too busy with my life to really connect to your life. It is easy to forget to remember people who are not overtly involved in the church life. The youngest and the oldest are often a big part of the groups of people who are neglected. Make the most of every opportunity to do good, especially to those of the household of faith
F. Third, value their gifts. Marginalized people often have unnoticed gifts. Paul’s teaching to the church in Corinth is that the church is a body and therefore one part of the body cannot say it doesn’t need another part. Listen to 1 Cor. 12:22-26. Learning to value the gifts another brings to the church is vital to helping the marginalized realize their worth instead of living in self-pity. Eisenhower reprimanded a general in the army for speaking of a soldier as “just a private,” adding that “The private is the man who wins the war.” This is exactly what Paul was saying here.
A. There are marginalized members in this church and every congregation. Some because they choose to live that way, complain, and drain the emotional resources of people around them.
B. But there are many that are marginalized simply because they don’t know how to fit it, find their place, share their gift or even know what value they bring to the body. It is this second group that we can help. The first group has to decide they want to be a part of the body instead of deciding they like be separate from but close enough to, to complain. Pray for them and love them.
C. We need to be individuals in this church who personally chose to interact with people that are often left alone, to meet their needs when we have the ability, and to value their gifts by helping them to see how they can best serve the body. Then, we will have less marginalized members and more unity of the body of Christ.