He Eats With Sinners

The accusation was meant to condemn, and from that condemnation would hopefully emerge widespread rejection. ‘He eats with sinners’, was attempting to establish the familiar ground of ‘us and them’.

What was so shocking was that one who called himself Son of God, Holy, and Righteous, was willing, in fact making a habit of being in the company of them, those from the rough and despised part of society.

That battleground was historical and I can read the scriptures in that same historical way. But I can see the same patterns re-attempting to strangle the strength of our gospel even today?

When I was in prison, I came to realise that the appeal of Jesus was universal. Many of my fellow prisoners understood the reality and hope in that simple accusation, ‘He eats with sinners’. It spoke to a hope that somewhere in all their confusion and mess Jesus was for them, he was accessible.

In their understanding, Jesus was definitely confronting, but his humility was as attractive as ice cream on a hot day. In fact, Jesus Christ’s humility was beautifully prohesied, not as ice-cream, but as being so gentle he would not bruise a reed, and as we read the gospel account we see the fulfillment of that.

This humility is what we as team aspire to. It is one of our core values and leads us on many occasions to pull up a chair at a table and eat with sinners. But if humility and witness could be established just by eating together then I’d just be asking for second breakfasts.

The story from which we read of this accusation against Jesus is recorded in three of the four gospels and references both tax-collectors and sinners. Matthew, Mark, and Luke knew the importance of the telling of this accusation, its importance for what it revealed then, and perhaps also for what it reveals about our religious systems now.

I believe the accusation was more aimed at Christ’s posture and purpose than the actual sharing of a meal together. To eat a meal with someone down-trodden, someone in a lesser position, is often seen to be good - a good deed. However, the accusation was meant to redefine what was becoming attractive, even perhaps what could have become a new normal.

We are now in the time of Lent, where we are encouraged to forgo something for the purpose of a greater focus on Jesus Christ and his ultimate sacrifice. As you fast can I also plant the idea of taking up a sacrifice of mercy.

Will you throw open your table, fire up the BBQ, break out the wine, and invite sinners into your presence? There is no greater time to introduce Christ to a world that is becoming fascinated by the idea of ‘us and them’.

Jesus is attractive to sinners when we, as hosts of the gospel, make ourselves accessible in our common settings. 

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Matthew 9:10-14

Peter Schultz

Class 35 Stretches Everything

The agreement, as we understood it, was to be thirteen men, however as we looked at the classroom filling up we counted twenty two. A brief discussion followed, and our commitment became the twenty two men expectantly sitting in front of us.

Immediately, our minds were filled with the reality that building trust and creating the necessary vulnerability was the task at hand. We knew how to achieve it with a smaller group, but what would it be with a larger group of men, long serving inmates no less?

A normal StepOut-StepFree class takes 2 weeks. This class, SOSF Class 35, took a month, as we deliberately slowed it down to allow more time for discussion, reflection and the building of the community essentials.

As the days progressed we began to observe genuine interest: a taking hold, an embracing of the self-confrontation, and questions - so many questions opening into wonderful discussion. During this same time, the strength of worship changed to where the voices now blended, harmonised and became the beautiful praise of broken men - new community was being built!

One of the men had served 17 years - having entered incarceration at 14 years of age. StepOut-StepFree was the first program he had undertaken, and it was by his choice. We observed the scales falling from his eyes, a new hope, a new understanding, a new countenance.

Several other men testified to becoming 'unburdened' during the days, and we could see that take place before our eyes. Our fear of taking on such a large class was replaced with a faith that God can accomplish so much more.

Final words belong to one man who wrote, 'StepOut-StepFree is a signpost, a lighthouse. I mean to say like air that I can now breathe after the confusion that had become my life.'

Providing these men the space in which to encounter their lives, their past, their future is a sacred trust. Our collective thanks goes to so many of you, our partners, that provide the resource and prayer to make this all happen again and again.

Peter Schultz

When the lights go on!

When the lights go on!

Fiji has had more than its share of power-outs in recent months. There is a flicker of warning, a dimming and then a sudden progression to black. Equally as dramatic is the power's return, lights declare their renewed importance; microwaves, phones and computers declare their joy with a hum and beep. Our work in the prison with men and women has many parallels to this simple illustration.