After Jesus instructed Matthew the tax-collector to follow him, Jesus went and ate at Matthew’s home with other tax-collectors. The Pharisees, who observed Jesus’ action, were offended by Jesus’ association with tax-collectors and sinners. The Pharisees lived according to a principle we have today: “Bad company corrupts good character.” However, Jesus hung around tax-collectors and sinners, but was not corrupted, rather he transformed them. Jesus suggested to the Pharisees to consider the Scripture, God desires mercy not sacrifice. The Pharisees thought they were maintaining their purity by avoiding sinners, but they failed to grasp that their avoidance of them was also a failure to demonstrate mercy toward those same individuals.
Bad company does not have to corrupt good character, if we like Jesus seek to transform others, rather than fit in with them. Bad company corrupts good character when an individual associates with bad company in order to be accepted by them. Many of Jesus’ disciples came from questionable backgrounds. Matthew was a tax-collector. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fisherman who were probably crude and not well educated men, later some would be called illiterate. They had violent tendencies; they wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village; Peter attacked the servant of the High Priest. Simon was called a Zealot; we’d call him today a terrorist. These were the men whom Jesus called friends. Jesus didn’t become like them, they became like Jesus.
How Jesus lived is how we are to live. We are not to be conformed to those around us, but we are to transform those around us, by who we are, by practicing justice, being kind, compassionate and forgiving, by lovingly caring for them, in order to reveal to them who Jesus is and encourage them to follow Jesus as well.