Warning: The following two paragraphs do not actually describe my feelings. They are satire.
As a good Christian, how should I treat my homosexual neighbors; the people living in the dump down the street; the neighbors who party all night; the drunken bums lining the street downtown; the young lady entering the abortion clinic; or the heavily pierced and tattooed kids at the skateboard park. Is it OK to avoid them, or to condemn them for their obvious and blatant sin? Should I be a good citizen and work to make their actions or activities illegal? Is it OK to protest against these behaviors, along with many more that I find offensive?
I suspect I am not alone in being uncomfortable around people whose lifestyles and values vary dramatically from my own. And it is tempting to gild that uncomfortableness with self-righteousness. I mean, after all, I am trying to follow the rules laid out in the Bible and they obviously are not. Otherwise, they would be like me. Therefore, they are wrong and should be called to task for that. Is it not my duty as the ‘light of the world’ to point out the sins I find around me? And to work to prevent people from being able to do those things?
Setting the Stage
I read a book as a youth that was later rewritten into a more modern setting and became somewhat of a fad. The WWJD acronym came from that story and it challenges me to compare my actions against those of Jesus, were he in my place today. I believe that is something worth considering as I encounter people in my everyday life. People who are not as godly, holy, and righteous as I am (cough, cough). I wonder, if Jesus showed up in my town today, would he spend his time with me, and others like me? Or would he hang out around the skateboard park, the downtown streets, and the abortion clinics?
The gospel of Matthew gives us a glimpse into what Jesus’ choice might be.
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:9-13 NIV
Various Responses to Jesus
Besides Jesus, there are three groups of people mentioned here. The first was Matthew and his friends; other tax collectors and sinners. This was a class of people that were looked down on by the good Christian people of Jesus’ day (although they were actually Jewish). They lived in ways that violated the commands of the Old Testament or other traditions that had developed around it. They were lowlifes, the scum of society, unacceptable to good moral folks.
A second group hanging around Matthew’s house in this story was the Pharisees. The Pharisees were good solid Baptist folk who sought to keep every command in the Bible as well as all the others that had been added to ensure that they were in good standing with God. The Pharisees would have nothing to do with Matthew and his friends because even touching one of them would leave a stain on their holiness. The only help the Pharisees would provide to Matthew and his friends was to give them more rules to try and live by; an attempt to legislate moral behavior, or at least what they considered moral behavior. The Pharisees challenged the appropriateness of Jesus and his disciples eating with Matthew and his friends. How could a holy man of God do such a thing, hanging around with sinful people?
The third group in this story was Jesus’ disciples. The story doesn’t say how they felt about all this, although I can imagine they were a bit uncomfortable about it; both because of who they were eating with and the response they got from the religious folks. But what is most important here is that they went where Jesus went, regardless of their comfort level. They were hanging out with sinners along with Jesus. That Jesus and his disciples were not called sinners themselves by the Pharisees indicates that they had not adopted the actions of the ‘sinners’ they were hanging out with. Their only guilt here, at least in the mind of the religious folks, was that they were willing to associate with Matthew and his friends.
What Would Jesus Do
And what about Jesus? He made it clear to the Pharisees that he had come to reach sinners, to show mercy to them. Not after they had repented of their ways, but in the midst of where they were at the time. He went to them and shared God’s love with them rather than sit in a church building and demand that people become good folks before he would touch them.
It seems clear from the story told here who Jesus would hang out with today. If he came to visit my town, I think it much more likely that I would find him downtown, in the bars or jails, or in the abortion clinics rather than hanging out in our churches, waiting for people to come to him. Jesus’ disciples are those who go where he goes and hang out with those he hangs out with. Am I his disciple? Will I condemn my homosexual neighbors for their behavior, or will I embrace them with God’s love? Will I allow their lifestyle to prevent me from sharing God’s love with them? How about you?