Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Eating with Sinners

I ran across an interesting passage in Bible class last Sunday morning. "The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at Jesus' disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'" (Luke 5:30).

We got to talking about what that meant for us as followers of Jesus. What if a homeless alcoholic or a strung-out addict showed up in church next Sunday? It seems like Jesus would go right up and start talking with them. What if we did that? Would we get grumbling and cold stares from other members who don't want that kind of person in our church?

Or what if one of us found out the two guys who moved in next door are a married gay couple? Jesus surely doesn't approve of that choice. But what would He do? Would He shun them to make it clear that they're going the wrong way? Well, we couldn't see Him doing that. We concluded He'd make their acquaintance, stand with them at the fence talking, or invite them over for a beer and get to know them. We figured He'd work hard to go from a total stranger, with His two cents worth, to a close, trusted friend with priceless words to share.

And now, the $64,000 question: wouldn't Jesus have us do the same? Doesn't it seem right to strike up a relationship where we can prove our genuine concern for them and their welfare -- both in this world and in the judgment to come? Once we've shown ourselves as true blue friends, then we can share our deep concern for their eternal welfare in a way they won't be able to easily dismiss.

Then someone in class brought up the instance of a friend whose grown child is moving in with his girlfriend. The mom is fine with it because she loves her son and doesn't want to drive him away. But this member of class couldn't let it lie and give the wrong impression that she condoned this. She said, "I wouldn't be able to approve that choice," but she confided to us that she wasn't sure if that was the right answer.

After a moment of silent thought, we looked again at Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners. When Jesus associated with a sinner who was going the wrong way, like the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4), He took time to make it clear that God has a very loving reason for forbidding certain things to us. They may be things we think harmless and innocent, but He knows their destructive potential. The bottom line: He cared too much to keep silent and watch those people bring harm and destruction on themselves, without a warning.

That started us on a discussion of the topic of living together and to examine our culture's view of it. What makes it look so attractive, and why does our culture buy into it? Someone suggested that living together seems smart, like test driving a car. Actually, from that point of view, we agreed it actually makes it seem naïve and foolish for a couple to wait to live together until they are married. But then we stepped back to look at the heart of marriage from God's point of view. It is a man and woman's commitment to remain together no matter what: "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us." Once we put God's light on it, it was clear that living together is the exact opposite. It's learning to live in a relationship without any ultimate commitment. It's really a good way to condition ourselves for separation and divorce, instead of marriage.

Suddenly, we saw how we could change a discussion about living together away from a smug, self-righteous attack on a young couple's chosen lifestyle to a heartfelt discussion of genuine love and concern for their well-being. That's how we follow Jesus' example of eating with sinners.

I realized in all my years of leading Bible class, I've not done that enough -- i.e. used that time as an opportunity to share our witnessing stories and challenges, and explore ways we can grow and improve. We all added some important tools to our witnessing toolbox last Sunday.

Sometimes stifling the urge to say something righteous is the hardest thing to do. We all get impulses to voice our opinion, especially when we feel the ground we stand on is sure -- black and white. Nonetheless, no one ever stood on surer ground than Jesus, and apparently even He was open to initiating conversations and launching friendships, even when some form of corrective admonishment might have been in order.

How about you? Do you resist the urge to be overbearing with your opinion, especially in situations where you might not know the parties that well?

Or is it damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead?

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