"the poor and sinners"

It is often pointed out that Jesus surrounded himself with the poor and sinners. And this is certainly true. Yet I don't think it's immediately clear who these "poor" and "sinners" actually were. It could also be said that we at the Catholic Worker house are surrounded by the poor and sinners (it often is said), but are these the same kind of people that Jesus spent his time with?

I've said before that my experience made me wonder about this. When I read the stories of Jesus and compare it to the people I'm encountering here, it seems markedly different. And I think the difference has something to do with the difference I've identified between "the poor" in general and the anawim.

When we hear of Jesus living and interacting with "sinners," they do not seem to be people still committed to their sin and engaged in it. I could be wrong about this. The sketches of Jesus with outcasts are often vague. But they seem to be with people who have been involved with disgraceful activities but who are interested in Jesus because they want to change. The specific accounts we have, such as Jesus' meal with Zacchaeus, show repentant sinners. Another identified sinner I recall is the woman who washes Jesus' feet with her tears. And then there's this famous passage in the second chapter of Mark:

As Jesus passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him.

The scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat 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 came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
Here it is clear that Jesus is gathering with previously known "sinners" who are now his followers. His last statement emphasizes that it is their realization that they are sinners that sets them apart from the Pharisees (who are not righteous, but think they are, and so are not open to Jesus' message). Again, Jesus is spending his time with those who are willing to turn from their sinful ways, willing to follow him out of their misery. He is not surrounding himself with those who are sinners who are happy to continue in their destructive ways. These have no interest in Jesus.

We see the same among those who crowded around Jesus for healing. Those who come to Jesus come with faith in him as a prophet of God. They come for a miracle. So often he says, "Your faith has healed you." And when the people have little faith, there is little healing in that place. "He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief." (Mt 13.58) The people that come to him are people who are in need and believe that God will help them through Jesus. These are the anawim.

Those who came to attack Jesus were those in power, who felt threatened by him. These were his persecutors, who he rebuked. He was not caught in the strange situation that I've often faced here, of being attacked by a person I'm trying to help, or dealing with a demanding beggar. Or providing food and shelter to someone who will go off and use drugs as soon as the next opportunity arises. But, as I've said before, Jesus put himself in a different position. What he offered did not draw the demanding beggars (except perhaps in John 6, then he repelled them with his teaching) or abusive drunks. He drew the faithful poor and sick, repentent sinners--and the persecuting powerful.

These are also the ones I'd like to be dealing with. So how did he do it?