And when the scribes and the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”-Mark 2:16-17
Every Monday evening, volunteers from different religious and social agencies take time off their busy schedules to feed countless number of homeless adults and children in the red light district. These groups are well organized. They come in their vans or trucks and serve nicely packaged hot meals. Their distribution method is immaculate. They take less than a hour to feed about hundred to two hundred people and then they move on to the next location. These volunteers get nothing out of this service except perhaps the knowledge that they have done a good thing. This is altruism in action in our context. It is a good thing.
However, it is not what the Lord was talking about when He said,
“And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”-Mark 10:44-45
In altruistic service, the action alone is sufficient. Relationship between the giver and the recipient is not a necessity. Sometimes the homeless do not even know or recognize the people who provide the food and the altruists give without attempting to find out the names of those who benefit from their generosity. It becomes a dry and mechanical exchange between two parties where the humanity of both parties is hardly acknowledged.
Jesus sat and ate with the tax collectors and so-called sinners. The religious authorities criticized Jesus for doing this. I think the pharisees and scribes would not have minded if Jesus just preached and taught the tax collectors and the sinners. However, sharing a meal with them changes everything. Jesus wanted to become their friends. Sharing a meal is an intimate moment. Even in our present reality, it is rare that we invite people into our homes for a meal. It means bringing the relationship to the next level. It is moving from a superficial acquaintance to a potentially profound friendship. It is a movement from altruistic action to Christian ministry.
Friendship in the context of the New Testament time was considered to be one of the highest virtues. Almost all the influential philosophies in the Roman times considered a happy man as one who is surrounded by friends. This is because friendship is voluntary. It is the one thing that belongs to us which we can freely give to another.
One of the homeless teens once asked our team leader whether she was his friend because of the work or because he wants to be her friend. He said that it was both. His ministry in the streets opened the door to knowing her and it set the foundation for the friendship that they have now. Friendship can be based on many foundations. Jesus is the foundation of our friendship for those who are lost and lonely in this world. Jesus came to be our Friend.
“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”-John 15:15
Jesus changed the nature of his relationship with the disciples because they had come to an understanding of the foundation of their friendship. It is to make the Father known. The best way to make the Father known is through our lives. The Father is not a concept that can be taught. He is person who lives within us. His presence and influence is seen through our lives. We cannot manifest the Father in our lives without being friends to those are friendless and lonely.
Christian Ministry begins with altruistic actions, but this is just the key that opens the door to a friendship. We cannot preach the gospel if we refuse to be friends with those to whom we minister. However, friendship alone does not make it a Christian Ministry. The goal is to make the Father known.