"Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." -- Luke 5:30b-32
The religious leaders of Jesus's day could not understand why he associated with the unrighteous. They thought that righteous people should only associate with other righteous people, that those who had committed sins should be left alone, if not ostracized altogether. Otherwise, they might be tainted by the same sins, by the association.
This thinking is still prevalent today, especially among religious people. We know that some conservative Christians certainly have a propensity for separating themselves
from people they think are wrong: wrong in what they believe, wrong in the way they
live, wrong even in their outward appearance (tattoos, and piercings, and attire, oh my). Very often, simply being different is somehow equivalent to being sinful. And being
sinful is reason enough for separation. How did this happen, when
Jesus taught and lived so differently?
Any yet, I would not be truly honest, and might even be guilty of calling the kettle black, if I did not admit that I too find myself tempted to take the same attitude as the Pharisees, again and again. Most often this temptation comes in my desire to protect my children from harm, or from what I think are negative influences, especially at their school. When they are being picked-on, or when they copy the bad behavior they see, or tell me about something that I wish they hadn't seen or heard, my first inclination is to pull them out of school, and find another one or home-school them, in order to protect them from all this. Sometimes, I even momentarily think of enrolling them in a Christian school, but then I worry that they will pick up on messages about Jesus and God that I don't agree with -- especially messages of exclusivity! I know... just call me "Pot."
I mean really, what did Jesus expect people, and therefore us, to do? Did he truly expect people to be gentle with someone who had hurt someone else? Did he truly expect people to forgive someone
who had hurt them personally? Did he expect people to value someone who had broken laws of human decency? Did he really want disciples to associate with someone who thought about right and wrong, and God, so differently?
Well, yes, actually. He did expect
people, and therefore us, to love others as God loves.
God seeks the
lost sheep, the undeserving, the wicked even, and brings them back into
the fold again and again. If you doubt the truth of this statement,
think about the people in the Bible whom God chooses and uses for good: Moses, who committed murder; Rahab, who was a prostitute; David, who committed adultery; the Apostles, who doubted, who got it wrong, who complained, who bragged, and who betrayed him; and Paul, who persecuted Christians, and sanctioned their murder. That's just to name a few.
And thank God this is true. Thank God that God loves us despite our mistakes, our transgressions, and our wrong-headedness, no matter how small or large these loom in front of us. For if God only loved the truly righteous, and the truly right, very few -- if any -- would qualify. For even when we try our very best to always be right and to do right, we sometimes get it wrong. Sometimes we just don't know what is truly right. And sometimes, even when we know what is right, we don't do it -- and make excuses as to why we don't.
So does this mean that it doesn't matter what we do? And does this mean it doesn't matter what other people do? Does this mean that we just accept the bad behavior and negativity we see or experience, knowing that we too aren't always perfect?
No. Jesus preached a message of love and repentance -- to both the sinner and to those who thought they were saints. He didn't encourage complacency, but transformation. Fully embodying love and forgiveness, he held a mirror in front of people, and taught them a better way. So, if we truly want to follow Jesus, then we must do the same. We cannot forsake anyone, for any reason. To do so, is certainly not very loving.
True love means loving one another despite our flaws or theirs, and it means learning how to share God's love courageously and humbly.
Dear God, thank you for loving me as you do, for continually showing me how to love my neighbor as you love me, and for never giving up on me. Love always, Pam
Happy Valentine's Day to Everyone!!