Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2, NIV)
Is anyone "muttering" or criticising the Church? And if so, for what are we being muttered against?
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was muttered against or criticised by respected and revered persons in 1st century Jerusalem. They were shocked that Jesus would seem to welcome table fellowship with people who were regarded by the majority in society as immoral or unethical.
Is anyone muttering against the church of Jesus today for being too welcoming towards those who society regards as immoral and unethical? Or are we more likely to be muttered against by those who feel we are too condemning? Would Jesus be muttered against today?
Some years back, there was a clever video advertisement of a well-known luxury hotel chain that showed a traveller trudging through the snow in a forest, all alone. He feels lost and increasingly tired as he tries to navigate to a safe haven. With ominous music background, we see a pack of wolves, hidden by the forest, looking at this stranger, slowly closing in on him. The inevitable happens. The man collapses in exhaustion onto the snow-covered ground. He passes out as the wolves move ominously towards him. The sombre music slowly fades and in its place comes soothing, welcoming music as the camera zooms onto the man dying in the snow. But then the man’s eyes open slowly. He is still alive. He hasn’t frozen to death or been torn apart by the wolves. Instead, he has been saved by the wolves. They have surrounded his body, keeping him from freezing with the warmth of their own fur-covered bodies. Then the clever tag line of this hotel chain appears as the ad concludes: “To embrace a stranger as one’s own - it’s in our nature.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZeS0Un3jwk)
Wolves welcoming and embracing human beings? Not what we usually think is possible or natural. Humans and wolves in the wild are, by nature, not only strangers to one another, but enemies. But wouldn’t it be nice if our understanding of what is “natural” was wrong? Maybe then we might be a bit more willing to embrace a stranger as one’s own.
People muttered and criticised Jesus for going against nature by welcoming the stranger and enemy. One does not, by nature, welcome or love one’s enemies. But Jesus did, and mainstream society muttered against him. Is anyone muttering against the Church of Jesus Christ today? And if so, for what are we being muttered against?
On TRAC Together for God's Word, Worship, Welcome, Witness and Wonder
Rev Dr Gordon Wong
This article was first published in the Jul 2015 issue of the Methodist Message, and is reproduced here with permission.