Sometimes being a Christian can become like being a Girl Scout. It all seems innocuous at first – singing songs about making new friends and keeping the old, selling delicious baked goods, giggling. Soon, however, competition is stirred and the jade sash comes on – badges become instruments with which to bludgeon others spirits into the ground.
It would be great if after becoming followers of Christ, we could all be friends, stand in a circle singing hymns of faith and fellowship, and enjoy one another as members of the Body. Unfortunately, legalism often creeps in and doing good things or doing things in the name of good become badges which we wear with the intent of either putting people down or showing off like a Girl Scout with a sash full of badges.
I have a spiritual sash. Thankfully, it’s not as full of badges as it used to be. To be certain, some badges are still as tightly stitched to my sash as the day they were sewn there. A few are hanging by threads.
One badge – the “I-only-have-godly-friends” badge – is in the process of being torn away. I used to wear this badge proudly, toward the top of my sash. I lived by the idea that my not having worldly, sinful friends was a sign of my own spiritual prowess and well-being.
Then I read about Jesus a little more carefully. Far from rejecting him for his godly standard of living, “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him” (Luke 15:1). In fact, you don’t have to pay attention that hard while reading the Gospels to notice that Jesus got invited to a lot of parties, most of which were hosted by or attended by people who we would look down upon – tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners. And in the first century, eating with someone meant that you put them on the same level as yourself, that you accepted them as friends. The Pharisees expressed this sentiment when they said accusingly of Jesus, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
Over the next few months, I want to go past a casual reading and look at the people that Jesus showed friendship toward – specifically, prostitutes, tax collectors, the Pharisees, and Judas. The first two flocked to Jesus. The second two tried to get away from him. What was it about Jesus that made loose women, thieves, sinners, and the most marginalized people in society flock to him? And if those same types of people don’t feel comfortable around Jesus’s followers today, where have we gone wrong?