(NOTE: I am a human and sometimes work prevents me from working. Because of this, I may combine days if I miss one. I’ll try not to do that, but I think there’s some room for grace in a season like this.)
It’s funny how easy it is to lump people together. It’s almost as if humanity willingly divides itself into individual tribes and groups based on common interests, values, and appearances.
So before I begin, a quick parable, from Freakazoid.
It’s a fun little deconstruction about after school specials that we only half pay attention to and forget the morals of, yet remember the broad stereotypes and fears subconsciously instilled from the story. I like it, partly because it’s ridiculous, and partly because it plays well into our shared ideas of what “the wrong crowd” looks like: tough, dirty, kind of unkempt, distrustful, and visibly different from others.
The Wrong Crowd does not look like us. They do not act like us. They are Wrong.
However, nobody ever wonders how The Wrong Crowd became that way in these kinds of schematics. It’s just assumed that they are preternaturally evil. They don’t have back-stories, and they aren’t supposed to. They fill the purpose of being a cardboard scapegoat.
Which brings us to this story, a story about how Matthew, a tax collector, became a disciple.
9 As Jesus continued on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. 10 As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.
11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice.[b]I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)
Matthew was in the wrong crowd.
Jesus was a teacher in the synagogue–a rogue teacher whom the pharisees were troubled by, but a respected teacher nonetheless.
Jesus was eating with the wrong crowd, and he didn’t care what anyone else thought about that. In fact he was quite proud of that fact that he was with the wrong crowd. Why? Because they were the people he came to be with. They represented the very reason he took on human flesh and became one of us. He came not for the healthy, but for the sick.
He saw in these people humanity, dignity, promise; that’s something the Pharisees and religious folk couldn’t get quite their heads around. Nor could they get their heads around another possible truth, that maybe, they were just as much the Wrong Crowd as the tax collectors and sinners. That they were just as sinful, and had just as much to repent for in their own lives. And that Jesus still loved them, cared for them, and wanted to heal them too, despite all outward righteousness.
The Letter to the Ephesians, 2: 4-5 sums it up well: “God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!”
So, from one member of the Wrong Crowd to another, welcome to the club. Jesus offers us mercy, and asks us to be merciful in return. That’s the price of membership.
I think I can manage that.