Tuesday, October 17, 2017

There Goes the Neighborhood

"The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'"
Luke 7:34.

Jesus, as the Son of Man, did much to upset people's notions of how the Son of God should behave. Claiming God as His Father was at least controversial and at worse scandalous. If He was God's Son, He certainly wasn't a chip off the 'Old Block'.

At least some thought He wasn't.

As a traveling rabbi invitations of hospitality could come from a broad spectrum of people. Being hosted was a demonstration of honor. However, being the guest of someone deemed undesirable or untouchable was this person's way of showing respect and honor for someone they esteemed more worthy than themselves. Such invitations might raise an eyebrow or two, but who knew. Perhaps this young rabbi just might rub off of on the low lifes to their betterment.

However Jesus didn't just eat with the riff-raff. The problem - He threw parties for them! This was over-the-top unacceptable to the religious authorities.

In his two books Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes author Kenneth E. Bailey extensively explores the cultural roots of Luke's parables. Bailey notes that casual associations with sinners, including eating at their homes, weren't out of the norm for a rabbi. However it wasn't customary. So what upset the Pharisees so much about Jesus' social schedule?

Hosting publicans and sinners meant He showed honor to these individuals. At the event, Jesus would have been expected to extend the guest(s) of honor His utmost respect and to laud them to all those in attendance. Unthinkable!

Unfortunately, this still happens today. God is portrayed as aloof from and completely cut off from sinners. The thought that He'd welcome them with open arms is repugnant. Certainly God has standards.

Indeed He does.

God sees everyone as already reconciled, therefore, all are welcome. This may offend some Christian's sensibilities because after all, God is holy. He can't be around sin or sinners. Either God never got our memo concerning this, or if He did, He chose to ignore it, pitching it into the celestial trashcan where it belongs.

Jesus' mode of hospitality may have driven his neighbor's crazy and their property values down, however, Heaven is filled to the brim with earth's undesirables. They are now citizens of good standing in the Kingdom of God. Those who accept His invitation find the welcome mat is always out and the relationship's already restored.

How about you? If Jesus lived next door and regularly threw house parties for those you deemed unworthy, how would you react? What message would your response convey about your understanding of God's character and nature, and His choice of friends? Would you find His "open door" policy towards sinners reprehensible and if so, why?

God is looking to include not exclude. Can we as His ambassadors here on earth do any less?