Jesus In The Outlaw Camp

Mark 2:15 many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus

The word “outlaw” is a very old English word (first recorded over 1000 years ago). Only in the last century has it come to primarily mean a fugitive living a lawless life. An outlaw, under the old English usage, was a person who was banished from the community. Banishment sometimes included the confiscation of all possessions. Outlaws were put outside the law and, therefore, deprived of its benefits and protections. The word “sinner,” as used in this passage, is very similar.

The word sinner, in modern English, conjures up the image of an immoral or evil person, very similar to the word outlaw in modern English. But sinner, as used in this verse, is closer to the old English “outlaw”. To practicing Jews, sinners were a class of outlaws who had by will, law, or circumstance of birth been placed outside the benefits and protection of covenant law. Even though they were, to some degree, racially Jewish, they could not socialize with practicing Jews, or attend their religious ceremonies. They also had no standing in Jewish courts.

Outlaws, or sinners, tended to congregate in communities, or “outlaw camps.” They would take the only jobs available to them, which were jobs the practicing Jews didn't want or, because of religious/cultural prohibitions, couldn't take. This made them doubly unclean to the Jews, but, other than their outlaw status, they were not necessarily any more sinful in their behavior than the Jews.

Jesus, ignoring the prejudice, freely walked from one camp to the next. To Jesus, the camp of practicing Jews and the outlaw camp were filled with the same people: sinners. All were guilty of breaking God's law, and we are all the same today. We are the banished of Heaven. Some of us live comparably moral lives, but it matters not to God. We are outlaws, the exiled of the Kingdom and we cannot change our condition ourselves. We were all born outside the benefits and protection of God's law.

Some, today, use, “I was born this way!” as some sort of excuse, imagining their behavior is justified by genetics. They are ignorant of the indictment in those words. Some modern pharisees will respond: “Yes, you were born that way. As trash you came into this world, and trash you shall remain.” The spiritually pure, Jesus and the Angels, hear that disclosure and may give no response, for, to them, that statement is a self-indicting truism, so there is nothing more to say. We were all born bent to sin. To those born and raised, like me, in the outlaw camp, we smile or laugh at the ruse. We know the only reason such an exclamation has any traction is because the blue-bloods are having one of their “culture wars” to make some favored condition or sin more acceptable in their camp.

But, in this passage, Jesus walked right into the outlaw camp. He came to sinners... outlaws. He walked right past the boldly painted, cultural Keep Out signs carefully erected by the Pharisees. He came to invite us to His camp. We are, by repentance and faith, welcome in His home... forever. That is gospel sure, and He is an amazing Savior of sinners.

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