Have you ever done a deep dive into the characters around Jesus? Sure you've probably heard all about the disciples and the "first ring followers." Maybe you've heard myself or some other pastors share about the crowd that followed around Jesus and gathered to hear his messages. And you may have stopped to consider the anger of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but have you ever really examined the people who made up the fringe characters in the story?
Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and sees money changers (you've heard of them) and people selling all sorts of animals and other items for sacrifice. Jesus calls these people thieves or robbers depending on your translation. They're charging people for access to God.
Then there's the tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes. You've probably heard a little about these people, but focusing in on the two groups we know most about - tax collectors and prostitutes - both of these groups would have made the table Jesus ate at unclean spiritually. No wonder the Pharisees and Sadducees were so upset! The proper response to this sort of defilement would be to go to the Temple, purchase the requisite offering, and sacrifice it to God to atone for one's sins. Jesus, though, tells those disparaging him that these actions aren't necessary, in fact they are even predatory!
In the minds of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus was placing himself and his own words on par with God's perceived revelation through the religious order over by gone eras. These feelings are the very feelings that led to Jesus being brought in front of the High Court and put on trial for blasphemy. For Jesus, hanging out with such individuals would only, logically, lead to one ending. From the beginning, Jesus courts controversy in more ways than one in his ministry.
I think on this lesson we learn from Jesus quite often as I have difficult discussions with people in my office, at coffee, or in the bleachers of a baseball field. Am I spending time with those that religious orders of bygone eras would disapprove of? If so, I'm probably right where Jesus would be. It was easy for Jesus to move among those who were far from God, to move among those who were considered "spiritually impure." Those who might present particular temptations that would be better avoided. I don't claim to find temptation nearly as easy to deal with as Jesus. And yet, I know there are places and people who I do find it easy to be in relationship with while still maintaining my own spiritual health that the Pharisees would have decried any association.
And so that's the challenge. As we move towards Back to Church Sunday, it has become increasingly not enough in this world to only associate with "good Christian people" and hope to advance the cause of the Kingdom of God (let alone Oakhurst UMC). I'm not sure that was ever enough. In fact, I see in Scripture the very example of one who knew that where the Kingdom must grow the most is beyond the boundaries of the Temple and Synagogue. So the challenge is this - who can you befriend today that you might not have had the courage to talk to yesterday? For in that action, the Kingdom of God will advance.
See you Sunday!