Both/and

We have an interesting situation in the church where I pastor.

We serve a meal on Tuesday nights attended by a lot of hurting folks, including the materially poor and homeless.

About the same number of people come to worship in our sanctuary on Sunday.

But few of our Tuesday guests worship with us on Sunday. And only a small number of dedicated members help serve the Tuesday meals.

It’s as if we have a Tuesday congregation and a Sunday congregation. Why is that?

Matthew 9 tells the story of the call of the disciple Matthew. Jesus saw him sitting in a tax collector’s booth and said, “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed. That night, Jesus went to Matthew’s house for dinner, and some of Matthew’s tax collector friends were there too. The Pharisees (New Testament scholar Dale Bruner calls them the “Serious”) wanted to know why Jesus ate with “sinners.”

The Serious had a point. They’d inherited a tradition, much of it coming directly from God himself, which said a good Jew needed to avoid sinners. The entire concept of God choosing a people to bless all of humankind depended on the Jews keeping themselves separate from the pagan world. This separateness helped them relate to a holy God.

And did we mention? In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were considered the worst sinners of all, on par with murderers.

So, which is it Jesus? Do your followers hang out with “sinners,” or do they keep themselves separate?

Which is harder, for the Serious to see themselves among the sinners, or the sinners to see themselves among the Serious?

Jesus was able to hang out with the most hurting people, and take their hurts upon himself, without becoming one of them.

Somehow, with Jesus, it was never “either/or” but always “both/and.”

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