There are a lot of things I have been accused of to which I plead guilty:
Slurping my tea (drives my sister crazy!)
Being too predictable (borderline boring)
Not being a good listener (Ouch!)
Being too cheap (How much was that again honey?)
Being last minute (I like to think of it as working well under pressure)
Having a sweet tooth (I love my chocolate!)
Driving like a maniac (Really? I don’t think I’m that bad!)
The list could go on, but there’s one thing I’ve never been accused of, to my shame.
It was a charge brought against Jesus: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1). The word welcome means, “to admit, give access to, extend hospitality towards, to receive into companionship.”
Jesus enjoyed hanging out with the less-than-desirables. Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.”
Treating them like friends.
I remember Brian. He was a fellow seminarian with me 30 years ago. An Episcopalian priest and missionary to tribal peoples of Papua New Guinea, he had come back to the States to get his Ph.D. He was a bit of an eccentric. Wore well-worn clothes (several days in a row) with his single pair of sandals, hair always disheveled, survived on rice, and lived in a studio apartment not much bigger than my bedroom closet. He was brilliant and had a heart of gold.
He was always taking homeless people into his little abode. He would feed them. Clean them. Give them a safe place to lay down their heads.
But more, he would befriend them. Talk. Laugh. Maybe play cards. Perhaps pray. For all I know, serve holy communion. He was weird.
He had a prolific writing ministry to prisoners. He would field their questions, ask them about their lives, note things of interest that might be happening in the world at large, and send money to those who asked. Money requested for toiletries, paper supplies, and clothing. And money for cancer-stricken, kidney-needing, double-amputee kids and girlfriends short on rent, food, gas, and manicure funds. He got some really fanciful, head-shaking stories.
I remember saying to him, “Brian, you know a lot of these guys aren’t using the money like they say. You’re being hustled.” His answer was convicting. In a kind, soft-spoken voice he replied, “I know. Many of them just want a pack of cigarettes, but that’s okay. I just want them to know someone believes in them. I am their friend.”
Jesus was called a “friend of ‘sinners,” but that was not said as a compliment (Matthew 11:19). Not by his enemies.
But what man values and what God values are oftentimes polar opposites.
One of the greatest tributes anyone could pay you or me is to charge us with loving messed up, broken people. Befriending them. Welcoming them.
Thank you Brian. You were weird . . . good weird.
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Jesus, Luke 14:12-14).