IT WAS SUCH A FEELING of power! Standing on the 38 Geary bus one night reading Vespers, a woman in front of me got up and moved over to a different part of the bus. She began to point and speak. I know very little Russian but the thing she was pointing at (and the distress she was feeling) was caused by my blue shirt, blue pants, yellow shoes, and yellow tie. I had worn these on purpose, standing in solidarity with Ukraine and I was stressing out the Russian ladies on the bus. Such a feeling of power! Also stupid.
We’ve been having a round of cancel culture from both the left and the right. The issue is around Ukraine and Russia. Which side are you on? Did you know there were neo-Nazis supporting this side or that side? Did you know this side was supporting Israel or not? Did you know that side was killing children? Etc. If you’re not 100% on the right side, watch out.
Which side would Jesus be on? Well, that gets worse: because there are Christians on both sides pulling their weight and there are Christians around the world lining up to side with Paul and Apollos, or Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Shevchuk in this case. So, which side would Jesus be on? We all know, don’t we? He would be on your side, right?
This problem has haunted me for most of my Christian life. It’s easy to see who the sinners are and they clearly are not being Christians when they sin. But what would Jesus do, actually?
הָאִישׁ הַלָּזֶה פְּנֵי חַטָּאִים הוּא נֹשֵׂא וְאֹכֵל עִמָּהֶם
Οὗτος ἁμαρτωλοὺς προσδέχεται καὶ συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς.
Quia hic peccatores recipit, et manducat cum illis.
This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.
The Pharisees in this text are talking about tax collectors and harlots: that is moral and political sinners, violators of the moral code as well as the purity code. Jesus welcomes them both. Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal son here. All they need to do is show up to be welcomed in. They will change later…
I don’t want to confuse this issue with communion: Jesus only let certain folks into the Last Supper. Admittance to communion is a juridical issue (after one is a Christian) and that’s another issue entirely.
Let’s imagine your least favorite politician or celebrity showed up at a Bible Study you were leading. What would happen? Regardless of why you might disagree with said person or how you imagine I might agree (or disagree) with you on whatever issue it is, how would you treat them? Tonight’s Bible Study is on the Discourse in John Chapter 3. What would you do?
God’s Holy Spirit works through us to evangelize. How we treat Harlots and Tax Collectors is exactly how people will see Christians acting in the world. Do we get judgey or lovey? What about the politics of it though? How is God working through our hearts at the moment of encounter?
Increasingly, all we can say about the world is that it’s filled with sin. Followers of the Messiah of Israel need to work all sides of every divide to bring them to Christ. There is no moral side in this world that we can stick with 100% and, even when it seems that way, we risk losing souls if we become partisans.
I’ve been watching a new generation of Jesus followers on YouTube: Hebrew speaking Jews and Arabs, and Arab speaking Israelis and Palestinians (and all of them speak some English as well) all worshipping Jesus together. I have no idea what their politics are I’ve looked: I can find none on their websites or social mediae. That seems to be on purpose. They want to praise Jesus. That’s all that matters.
Too many times we, especially in America, but not only so, want to see the world in black and white. We want to assume that Jesus would see the world the same way we do. He was not afraid of Romans or Gentiles or Jews of any political stripe: he accepted all comers, even the ones who would betray him. That is, all of them except John. He even gave them communion at the Last Supper. He didn’t see it as black and white. He saw it as love – even when people were doing the wrong things.
When I look at the places where Jesus’ name has been most blasphemed it’s most often in wars between Christians. Those wars are most often they are between specific groups of Christians: Protestants and Catholics, Russian Orthodox vers Greek Catholics, Anglicans vrs Dutch Reformed. But they are not theological wars: they are Proxy Wars for political power. We get sucked into the ideas of this or that leader, this or that offer of protection, this or that secular idea of “justice” or “prosperity”, or sometimes simple power and land. We sell out our Christian ideals of martyrdom for the truth, of love, of peace, of welcoming sinners in exchange for the most recent golden calf.
I know that some recent actions on the part of some Christians might be seen to violate this or that teaching of the faith. However, my own sins are not that important: don’t judge me! I’m free to judge you, however. Please don’t cut me out of the Church, but let me do so to you.
Not that I was getting ready to evangelize that night on the bus – and the Russian women probably have seen me as a Papist schismatic – but why did I get such a rush over being right when, in fact, I was just falling into the ways of the world?
Welcome sinners and eat with them.
That’s how Jesus converted people. Eat with them. Love them into seeing their missteps. Forgive them even before they ask, and keep on living the Gospel. Jesus is Lord and he conquers any human divisions we have not by picking one side or the other, but by loving both and all. We have no better program or pattern. It got Jesus crucified. We should have the blessing of the same experience. It will mean we’re doing something right.
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