Recently a guy who’s been attending The Journey for some time stopped by to chat. We made some small talk and then he asked a question – a question I could tell had been weighing on him for some time:
“I’m not a first-timer, but I’ve lived my life believing that things are what you make of them so I wouldn’t say Jesus is my savior or anything yet either… I guess I’m kind of an in-betweener. Is there a place for me here?”
I’m in a Life Group that’s reading through the book of Mark. Last week we came across this verse:
Later, 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) (Mark 2:15 – NLT).
There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers. Not on the fringes. Not in the cheap seats. Among Jesus’ followers.
Unconvinced. Unsure. Not quite ready. Not yet surrendered.
Levi (Matthew) had already decided to serve Jesus by this time. Some of the people he invited over were likely first-timers, new to Jesus and his ministry. But Mark pauses parenthetically to tell us something very important: among Jesus’ followers, there were many who were in between.
Does that catch you off guard? It did me. And apparently it threw the religious leaders for a loop as well:
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” (16)?
Eating together in this culture meant more than grabbing a bite at Applebee’s with a few acquaintances. It was a sign of friendship. To share a table was to send a message: I have something in common with this person and we’re celebrating it; spending this time together eating and drinking and enjoying each other’s company.
It’s easy to understand why Jesus connected with his disciples. And why he was compassionate toward first-timers. But what about the in-betweeners? Shouldn’t they have gotten it by now?
He’s glad you asked:
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (17).
Sometimes it takes a while to figure out we’re sinners. Weren’t we all “in between” at some point, even if just for a season? Caught between faith and doubt, surrender and selfishness, our sin and Christ’s salvation?
I hope my friend will soon come to Jesus. And I told him that. But I also let him know that in the meantime, we’ll keep providing a place where he can be in between. We’ll respect where he is in his spiritual journey. We won’t marginalize him because he hasn’t bought in yet. And we’ll do that for as long as it takes.
After all, Jesus did.