You can tell a lot about someone from a quick study of their friends. Who do I choose to hang with? Who feels comfortable hanging with me? Who would rather keep a respectful distance? Who can't stand being in the same room with me?
Like moths to a flame, the folks that gravitated to Jesus were generally people that I'm much afraid wouldn't be caught dead spending the weekend with your average evangelical. Checkout the preface to the 15th chapter of Luke's gospel, found in verse 1:
Now the tax collectors and "sinners"
were all gathering around to hear him
Do the bums like us? How about gays and strident evolutionists? Sure, in the field of debate we are bound to disagree strongly, but as people, do they want to go camping with us, for instance, just because they feel warmly accepted...and we're fun to be around? We love the field of debate and the thought of camping with a beer drinking sinner gives us the heebs.
One thing about sinners, they can be pretty interesting people. Learned some things from them that I never learned in church. They can be incredibly fun people too...try camping with some sometime. Done it...and if you promise not to tell, I'll let you in on a secret: we had a great time. Sure, scratch beneath the surface and you'll generally find some very needy souls searching in all the wrong places for what their souls are thirsting for...but you're generally not going to scratch beneath the surface unless you're willing to play cards with them or sit around a camp fire til it's way past your bed time.
Another thought...what do we teach in our churches? What do we write about? Do sinners gather around to hear? Why not? They gathered around Jesus. We say that He is our model for how to do 'ministry.' But isn't something amiss if it is our fellow evangelicals who flock to our churches and the bums can't stand to be around us? Either the sinners of today are different than the sinners of Jesus' day or we followers of Jesus aren't the same as the followers in Jesus' day.