Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: Who Jesus hangs out with…


The Gospels are clear about the company Jesus kept.
We know he was criticized for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. Religious people in his day would never spend time with folks like this. Tax collectors were seen as collaborators with the enemy. Sinners were people who didn’t keep the religious laws. Today, he would probably hang out with people who try to recruit for extremists. You might even find him in a bar somewhere, hanging out with people who never go to church.
We know he enjoyed the company of working men, fisherman such as Peter, Andrew, James and John. These men didn’t fish for pleasure; they fished for a living. Fishing for a living is hard, back-breaking work. Today, he would hang out with truck drivers, people on the assembly line, farmers, electricians, plumbers and carpenters. He might even swap stories with them about working on construction sites, maybe even show them the blisters on his own hands.
We know a group of rich women were part of his circle: Joanna and Susanna wrote the checks that kept his ministry going. It was common in his day for wealthy women to support rabbis. What was uncommon was support of a rabbi who had not studied with another famous rabbi. Today, Jesus would be at the country club, seated at a table by the window, talking to women about God’s plan for their lives. He would focus on their souls and not have one lustful thought about their bodies.
We know Mary Magdalene, having been delivered from seven demons, was in the inner circle. We don’t know exactly what impact the demons had on her, but I bet everyone who knew her thought she was seriously disturbed. Have you ever been around a seriously disturbed person? It takes a special sense of calm. Today, Jesus would be completely at home with people who are disturbed, maybe even diagnosed. I wonder if he would visit the hospital where the most disturbed are held. He could bring them peace, just like he brought peace to Mary Magdalene.
We know Jesus talked a lot with religious leaders and scholars. Religious scholars and leaders can be pretty proud of their understanding of God. They would ask questions, and he would blow up their systems of theology by talking about a relationship with God. Today, Jesus would be at home in the pastor’s study, helping the pastor rewrite his sermon. I would love to see Jesus in a seminary classroom, gently correcting the professor’s carefully constructed theology with a smile.
We know Jesus spent time with sick people: the lepers, the deformed, the blind, the lame and the epileptics. Did he ever turn anyone away who came to him to be healed? No, he did not. He healed them. Today, Jesus would be up at the hospitals and nursing homes, offering the comfort of His power, healing the sick and emptying the beds.
We know Jesus spent time with His disciples, the people who answered his call to follow Him. They wanted to learn from him and who wanted to be like Him. Today, Jesus loves to hang out with people who want to follow him, learn from Him and be like Him. He relishes their prayers, and as they listen, he speaks.
Here’s the truth to recognize: Jesus never excluded people. He was comfortable with all kinds of people who had all kinds of issues. Which means, of course, that Jesus is comfortable with you. No matter what you do, what perspective you bring, and no matter what system of belief you have, Jesus is comfortable with you.
We are left with this question: If Jesus is comfortable hanging out with all kinds of people, shouldn’t His church be filled with all kinds of people too? If it’s not, what are we doing wrong?
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at