This verse jumped out at me last night:
Tax collectors and sinners were all crowding around to listen to Jesus. (Luke 15:1, CEV)
I was struck to the heart as it seems alarmingly obvious the disconnect between who should be finding my messages inviting, welcoming, comforting and those who in actuality crowd around. Perhaps it is related to who I hang out and chat with. But I also worry about how often I have worked to define or apply a ready definition of a “sinful” behavior, whether intentionally or out of cultural habit, with the result that the other is put off unless they repent and take on my specifically defined beliefs?
This is not the way of Jesus as I am only too slowly beginning too see. Instead, Jesus’ is a way of love that is an inviting, welcoming grace without prerequisite change. How else to explain the specific groups who did crowd around Jesus?
As I read the news, it also seems clear I am not alone, but that too often this defines a Christian faith that is most welcoming and enticing to those who look, believe, and act like us. Indeed, it has become a powerful weapon against inclusion and diversity and instead in support of the existing power structures. This is a sin that distances us from the way of the God of love, justice, and mercy. It is hypocrisy when we pray “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” and then works in opposition to that prayer by seeding divisive, unloving words and deeds. Our preachers should be swarmed by tax collectors and sinners from all corners of our communities. Our churches should be filled by those same tax collectors and sinners. But as we go out to our neighborhoods, our places of work and play, we each should be surrounded by the tax collectors and sinners. If not, we need to ask why not, we need to repent, and we need to ask for help from the very same tax collectors and sinners to change our ways!