As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.
A reading from the Gospel of Luke.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
— Luke 15:1, 2 (NIV)
At least that's what the religious leaders thought. This man, Jesus, eats–is relational–with sinners. The vilest of vile people are invited to dine with this so-called Rabbi.
These people that Jesus was hanging out with were not individuals that would be in the best liked category. Prostitutes. Tax collectors. Outcasts. Lepers. The blind. Throughout the gospel narrative Jesus positions himself in such a way to be either at dinner with these people, or being interrupted by them.
And, when we examine these stories through our 21st Century Christianity lenses, we often look at these Pharisees and Sadducees and can't imagine how they could be so dense to diss Jesus. What must they have been thinking to make fun of Jesus for going to those outcasts of society.
But, don't we do the same?
On Sunday, we were at church here in Central Asia and watched as a couple from a very Muslim nation (that sits to the east of the Middle East) joined with that fellowship. They are from a nation where we see immense growth in the church, but where Christians are regularly persecuted. Yet, Jesus is there, and is dining with the outcasts. But still, elements of the Christian community in the West want their own nation to go to war with the nation of these new Church members.
Suddenly, the Pharisees and Sadducees don't look all that ridiculous to us.
Or, we do things like count the number of Christians–those who believe that Jesus is indeed the only way to God–in a particular nation, and exclude those who don't fit an “evangelical” definition. We assume that since they don't see this relationship with God in the same way that we do that they are somehow less Christian–or not Christian at all. We've become just as exclusive as the Pharisees and Sadducees.
As an example of this, Rick Warren, caught some flack yesterday for calling on his Twitter followers to fast and pray for Conclave–the selection of a new Pope. Why? Why is it ok for us to call for prayer and fasting for a national leader, but not for a Christian leader?
We're ok when Jesus acts–or asks His followers to act–in a way that fits into our worldview, but when they do something with which we're not comfortable, or consider “unsafe”, then what do we do? Do we–like Nicodemus–come to Jesus by night? Hidden beneath an invisibility cloak so as not to be seen by our friends?
What happens when we walk into a congregation and our fellow believers are worshipping differently than we do? Do we consider them to be less Godly than we?
As I've read the Gospels, I've come to believe that the problem with the religious folk of Jesus' time wasn't their traditions per se, but was that they worshipped their tradition more than their God. Their method of worship had become an idol.
Within each of us lies this same tendency. This belief that our particular arm of the Body of Christ is somehow better than the other arm. That our liturgy–or lack thereof–is better than their liturgy–or lack thereof. That our bass guitar is better than their absence of a bass guitar. That our nationality is better than someone else's nationality. That our temporal safety matters more than someone else's eternal safety–and completeness of life.
The Kingdom doesn't just come to those whom we think it should come. The Kingdom is for all–every tribe, every language. It isn't just for those who would not make us uncomfortable in our church.
Sometimes (oftentimes?) when we read a passage like this one, we like to go to the “Jesus redeemed a wretch like me” place in our heads. We think, Jesus came not for the Pharisees and Sadducees, but for the outcasts, And, thank God, He did. Yet, He also came for the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Nicodemus' and the Joseph of Arimatheas. He came for the Herod's and the Caesars. He also came to redeem the wretch like me who belittles another Christian for not fitting into my mold of what Christian should look like.
Let me challenge you. Take a moment and ask God to show you how you define–not that dictionary definition in your head, but the one you would never say outloud but would live out one in your heart–“outcast”. Is it homeless? Prostitute? Drug addict? Mentally or physically challenged? Orphaned? Muslim? Black? White? Hindu? Anyone not western evangelical?
Then, take some time to ask God to give you HIS HEART for those whom you consider to be “outcast”.
Finally, do as Jesus did. Welcome sinners and eat with them. Let your life be a light to them. Let it shine that they might see the way into the Kingdom.