Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wrong Crowd, Right Reasons

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’” But wisdom is proved right by her actions.

                        Matthew 11.19

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Jesus?

You’ve got to wonder, had God sent Jesus into our world, how far could He go? Could His ministry even get off the ground? Without divine intervention, I’m not so sure. Our post-industrial culture puts far too much trust in mass production for an iconoclastic preacher like Jesus to run loose very long without getting reeled back in. Anyone aspiring to ministry today must comply certain protocols and standards. While I’m not questioning their validity or necessity, I mention them because their main purpose is “quality control”—cranking out ministers to meet fixed standards and qualifications. 

Let’s review how Jesus begins His ministry. He gets baptized, spends 40 days in the wilderness, and—bam!—He’s preaching and healing, calling disciples and challenging temple elders, and revolutionizing religious thought. Just imagining such a thing now would make some queasy and others laugh. Although ancient Palestine’s climate isn’t nearly as cool as ours toward self-styled prophets, it still doesn't take long for Jesus to get on a lot of people’s nerves. Not only does His radical take on Scripture rattle their cages. His social habits don't comply with their standards of rabbinical behavior. They scrutinize His every move and go off when they catch Him where they think He shouldn’t be, with people they think He shouldn’t be around, and doing things they think He shouldn’t do. Yet their outrage hardly fazes Him. “Say what you will,” He essentially tells His critics in Matthew 11.19. “The wisdom in what I do will prove itself in the end.” Yes, Jesus is problem for many people, a problem that adamantly refuses to be solved.  

Nothing to Explain

Jesus’s doesn’t downplay His whereabouts and associations to prove His defiance or superiority. As He sees it, there’s nothing to explain. Even on the odd occasion when He does humor his critics, they don’t get it. In Luke 5.31-32, He replies to questions about Him dining with the wrong crowd this way: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Later on, when He calls Zaccheus down from the tree and invites Himself to the taxman’s house, the nay-sayers are at it again, grumbling, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” (Luke 19.7) Staying clear of the wrong crowd to please the “right crowd” (if such a thing exists) won’t help those who need Him most. What’s not to understand about that?

Jesus has nothing to explain because He befriends the wrong crowd for the right reasons. He gives them His time, attention, and respect—at the risk of losing the respect of others—because no one else will. Truth be told, though, He doesn’t make things easy for Himself. He doesn’t limit Himself to an almost-right crowd—middle-of-the-road people who behave most of the time. Jesus jumps headlong into the worst of the worst, tax collectors and “sinners.” Jews revile tax collectors as traitors who profit by working for Romans, turning a blind eye to their tax-poor countrymen. “Sinners”—braced in quotes to denote a different word than the one for run-of-the-mill transgressors—are so repugnant to the mainstream they’re shunned by society and banned from worship. This is Jesus’s crowd, traitors and pariahs. He’s not ashamed to be seen with them, in their homes, eating their food, and drinking their wine. It’s exactly where He needs to be.

Coming Out to Go Back In

“A house is known by the company it keeps,” we’re told to warn us about “guilt by association.” This concept doesn’t match anything Jesus says or does, though many try to justify it with scriptural admonitions to pursue godly lives set apart from those pursuing their own pleasure. A favorite is 2 Corinthians 6.17: “Come out from them and be separate, say the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” Most assuredly, God’s presence should bring a noticeable change in our lives. But misconstruing being separate to mean separation misses the point. It shifts the emphasis from being to not doing. Worse yet, thinking separation will save our reputations (or souls) ignores the internal contradiction screaming down the middle of such logic. Self-imposed isolation from the wrong crowd for our benefit and safety puts us in the wrong crowd. How can we obey Christ’s law to love our neighbors as ourselves if we place our interests above theirs?

The purpose for coming out and being separate is going back in and becoming useful. Resisting bad influences and avoiding badly influenced people are not the same. Confusing them results in a fear-based strategy. If we’ve truly left the wrong crowd’s ways, there’s no reason to fear going back in to help others come out. On the other hand, if we return to dabble in their harmful attitudes and actions, we should be afraid—very afraid. We’re not opening our hearts to them; we’re opening our minds to their influences. We’re with the wrong crowd for the wrong reasons and we’ve got some explaining to do. When we’re with the wrong crowd for the right reasons, however, there’s nothing to explain.

Hanging with the wrong crowd for the right reasons is never wrong.

(Tomorrow: When Push Comes to Shove)

Note: Two online Bible studies are happening THIS WEEK. Click on the link at the top of the right column to find out more.


Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

What house do I live in if not the house of God. But even though I sound like a broken record I feel I am not in his house, I feel forgotten left at a weigh station to sit alone. I know inside Gpod is here and around me, but I cannot feel him, I cannot hear him talk to me like I once did. Is this my fault, could I have done something that my father would remove me from his house? I feel as though I am at a cross road. Do I cross the road anhd follow, or do I follow the anger I feel inside? I cannot dismis God in my life, but where is the light that I use to feel.

I ask you this because I trust your opinion.

Soft love,

Tim said...

"I know God is here and around me."

KNOW that, T. Emotions are deceptive things, governed by all sorts of factors that knowledge--meaning deep, intrinsic awareness--overrules.

Personally, when I'm exhausted or pressed on every side, I can be an emotional basket case. We must let knowledge of God govern our lives. This means we have to bring discipline to our emotional state, trusting in what we know.

Feeling forsaken actually puts you in fine company. All through Psalms, David's asking God, "Where'd you go?" Jesus cries, "My God why have you left me?" from the cross. And Job, well poor Job can't explain how he feels because he's lost everything and all his friends can come up with is he's done something to deserve this, which isn't the case at all.

But now listen to each of these three talk about what they KNOW.

David: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me."

Jesus: "If God is concerned about the birds in the air and the flowers of the field, how much more is concerned about you?"

Job: "I know my Redeemer lives and He will stand at the last day on the Earth."

Feelings will come and go; as you yourself point out you're presently feeling different than how you once felt. Unfortunately, right now that's not as good as before. But in the long run, feelings have a relatively short shelf life. (To pull the chemistry analysis through, they change, wax and wane, combine in dangerous compounds, and remain volatile because they're unreliable--they're not "stable.") This doesn't mean we who feel them are unreliable or unstable--and it most definitely doesn't mean God isn't reliable.

We must KNOW who we are and Who He is. We can't ever get a perspective on our emotions by trying to understand them through an emotional lens. We have to look at them through what we know.

You may not feel the truth of God's love and presence, T. But you know it. And, as Jesus told us, "You will KNOW the truth and it will make you free."

Hope this helps.

Blessings and big love,

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

you are a beautiful and brilliant man and I adore your heart and compassion.

Thank you.

Tim said...

Thanks for your kindness, T. The beauty and brilliance is in the Word and our God. I'm just passing along what I've read, learned, and know.

All the same, I'm deeply honored and warmed by your compliment. And I continue to pray for you, KNOWING God's light is all around you and BELIEVING the joy and love inside you is blossoming forth even as I write this.

Much love,

PS: If possible, please try to make it to one of this week's online studies (tonight and Saturday AM). I expect you'll find additional help/answers from our discussion.