Continuing the thought from last week about Christian vs. non-Christian friends, let's take a look at Jesus. Who were his friends? Who did he prefer to hang with? It seems when we look at the accounts of his life in the four Gospels we see a somewhat contrasting picture. Of course, he spent much time with his disciples, especially the twelve, and more especially the "inner circle" of Peter, James, and John. No doubt he must have felt some special kinship to these. For example, on one occasion when his biological brothers and even his own mother wanted to see Jesus, he responded, '"Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother'" (Matt 12:48-50). Jesus seemed to be suggesting that those who similarly follow God are those he feels the closest kinship to. And that is how it should be with us, shouldn't it? Certainly that is what we see with the disciples in Acts and the letters.
And yet, Jesus was also a friend to the "tax-gatherers and sinners" (those considered the scum of the earth in Israel). In fact, Jesus spent so much time with the "sinners" that the religious leaders among his fellow-Jews complained and accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard (Mt 11.16-19). It was a false charge, of course, but Jesus responded that "wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." He purposely sought out people far from God because, as he said on an earlier similar occasion when the religious people complained about Jesus' choice of company, he had compassion for them and they needed a physician (Mt 9.10-13). Jesus knew that the best way to help broken people is to be their friend.
I wonder, though, if he didn't also find "sinners" more real and open than others (I put "sinners" in quotation marks because the truth is that we area all sinners). Certainly they were more genuine and accepting than the religious leaders. But even Jesus' own disciples didn't really get Jesus. They vied for position, acted faithlessly, and seldom seemed to understand him (though they eventually changed). In contrast, Jesus marveled at pagan military commanders who understood his power and authority (Mt 8.5-13), or prostitutes who understood his love (Lk 7.36-50). They saw something in Jesus that even his closest friends seldom comprehended. And Jesus saw something special in them as well.
I'm not suggesting that Jesus preferred the company of people far from God to the company of those who were of kindred spirit in matters of the spirit (or, of the Spirit). But he certainly preferred the former to the religious people. I sometimes wonder who he would prefer today. One of the characteristics of the religious people of Jesus' world was that they disdained "sinners" and kept aloof of them. Has the church today been a little guilty of that? Have we secluded ourselves from the world so much that it could never be said of us that we are friends of the "sinners"? Have we enough compassion for people who are far from God to spend time with them, eat with them, and become their friends? Or are we so uncomfortable around unbelievers that we shun their company?