Who Are Today’s “Tax Collectors and Sinners?”
In Mark 2:13-17 we see Jesus eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” These are people whose sinful behavior patterns were (a) publicly obvious and (b) placed them outside of the mainstream of “respectable” society. While contemplating the question of what sorts of people could be similarly described in our world today, I came across a video about the founder of 20Schemes, a Christian ministry in Scotland’s housing projects (or “schemes” as they call them there). Here is 20Schemes’ description of Scottish schemes:
Opinions on housing schemes differ depending on your life history and experience of them. Nowadays, they are still vestiges of working class people, sometimes holding down 2 or more jobs as they struggle to pay the bills.
Over the years changes have come to the schemes. Along with modern redevelopment there has been an influx of middle class social climbers bringing with them their worldview, often not understanding the nuances of entering a tight-knit scheme community where families have lived for generations. We have also seen immigrants being settled in the schemes, often being met with suspicion. We also have the ‘benefits class’ who have been on social security handouts for generations. For them work is anathema.
All of this is being fed by a drug culture that is commonplace, coupled with a criminal underbelly that deals in street drugs, prescribed medication and stolen goods as a matter of course. Far too many people on the schemes are ruled by fear.
To some they are places of terror, to some places of hopelessness, but to many millions more they are ‘home’.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not suggesting that it’s the poor who are today’s “tax collectors and sinners,” but rather those who end up in poverty as a result of their drug addiction and criminal behavior (of course, there are other sorts of people that would also be modern equivalents to those with whom Jesus ate).
How Might We “Eat” With Today’s Tax Collectors and Sinners?
The founder of 20Schemes is an Irish man named Mez McConnell. In the early 1990s he was a “sinner” (man with a criminal record, drug abuser, etc) in England, and his story about the Christians who led him to Christ reminds me of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. Mez was in prison when two Christians visited him. Mez was impressed with the fact that “they actually just talked to me like I was a human being and not a pet project.” Then, when Mez was eligible for parole, because he had no where else to go, one of these two men took him in to his own home.
Here’s the link to Mez McConnell’s testimony. It is a nine minute video worth every minute!
One of the things Mez emphasizes in the video is that not only did the Lord convert him, but he also broke through a cycle of abuse and brokeness that had been so characteristic of Mez’ family history. That experience of Christ’s power is what drives 20Schemes’ vision today:
We believe that the biggest need, most urgent crisis, and most crippling poverty in the schemes is spiritual. Most living in Scotland’s Schemes are spiritually dead, trapped, lost, unreached and unengaged by the church. The gospel alone changes lives. The response of the church to the devastating reality of much of life in Scotland’s schemes has to be more than support groups and charity. Our response must be for the church to move into the schemes, to see new, healthy, vibrant, gospel preaching churches established in the schemes and for the schemes.
So is this mere talk, or is 20Schemes being used by the Lord today? At this link you will find a four minute video of a man named Ralph telling his story and being baptized by Mez. Again, well worth your viewing time. Be encouraged!