There’s an old joke: What’s the difference between Methodists and Baptists? Methodists will say “Hi” to one another in the liquor store.
For my particular branch of the Methodist family we would usually not identify with either, because no Free Methodist would be caught dead in a liquor store. This was brought fully to my attention a couple of weeks ago. We are looking for a musician for our church, and no one had any leads on one. So, I said it may be time to go bar-hopping and find the local musical talent. I mentioned this in several different contexts with different groups of people in our congregation, and each time I was met with the same nervous laugh that cautiously asked if I was kidding or not.
All joking about bars and liquor stores aside, Jesus was always caught with the wrong people in the wrong places. He was constantly in the company of sinners, what today we would call those people. And apparently, he was the life of the party. Just look at the description the upright and religious folks had of Jesus that Jesus reports as a criticism of him from Matthew 11:16-18:
But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard,a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.
How have we gotten so far away from Jesus’ example that we would sound more like the Pharisees in this passage? If we are truly followers of Christ, should we not be doing the same things in the same places that he said and did?
I think much of the core of our problem is that we are afraid. We are afraid of sin. We are afraid of being contaminated by sin. We are afraid of sinners. We are afraid of being associated with sinners. We are afraid of what other people might think about us. We are afraid that we might actually have a good time in a place that is associated with sin, because then we might be sinning or condoning others’ sins.
Isn’t it a good thing Jesus was not bound by these fears? Salvation entered the world because Jesus was not afraid of being with sinners and in places where sin happens. After all, he came into the world. And while he was in the world he regularly went where he was needed most.
I think it is time we quit judging sinners and start judging ourselves for keeping the Good News of salvation quiet in the places where it is needed the most.
Oh, by the way, two men walked into a bar. The third one ducked.