Reverend Shaw Moore was the fundamentalist preacher played by John Lithgow in the movie Footloose. Though fictitious, Reverend Moore, preaching against dancing and rock music, stereo-typifies much of traditional American Christianity rooted deeply in Puritan values. Without saying so in words, his church preaches a loud and clear message: check your sin at the door, because God wants nothing to do with sinners.
There was another time in history when some of God’s people, by in large, believed this too. However, Jesus believed differently and routinely shared the dinner table with the sinners, the unclean. It resulted in him being accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Luke 8.34, NIV).
This accusation is a quote from Deuteronomy 21.20 regarding the rebellious son that will not obey his father. So beyond being accused of being a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, Jesus is actually having a legal charge brought against him that carried the punishment of being stoned to death.
But this is Jesus’ way of life, befriending the sinner at the risk of being called a drunkard and glutton – a rebellious Torah breaker. Rather than separating the clean and unclean, the righteous and the sinners in order to exclude the former, Jesus was interested in telling a different message. As Scot McKnight writes in his book The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others, “Jesus’ table story: clean or unclean, you can eat with me, and I will make you clean” (p. 36)
That’s the way of Jesus. That’s the sort of church Jesus had in mind when he first called a group of fishermen to follow him. It’s a church who’s love and hospitality for the sinner runs so deep and wide that the church is at risk of even being accused participating in the said sins. That’s a reminder to us that if we want to participate in the gospel mission that makes unclean people clean once again, we must be willing to become the church of “gluttons and drunkards” by loving without judgment and extending hospitality without reservation to all sinners.
This post was published as a bulletin article for the Randolph Church of Christ on Sunday, July 10, 2011.