"The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.'" - Luke 15:2
I was never really sure I loved Jesus. Or maybe I was never sure what that meant, to say "I love Jesus."
It certainly sounded like something I should do, something I ought to feel.
But when I thought about loving Jesus I always saw those Sunday School paintings of a radiant white knight of perfect piety. I did not warm to that Jesus. And hymns like "Oh How I Love Jesus" thrust me back into Summer Vacation Bible School at the huge, neighborhood Baptist Church where I wanted to fit in, but just couldn't pull it off.
There was something just a little smarmy about it all. As if saying, "I love Jesus" were the password to an exclusive club.
But Jesus in the Bible, here in Luke 15 for example, is something else again.
This Jesus irritated people because he didn't buy their confident distinction between the righteous and unrighteous, saint and sinner, clean and unclean. He doesn't seem disgusted by anyone at all (well, except maybe the self-righteous). For him those categories, which mean so much to us, seem strangely irrelevant.
For him, as the writer Francis Spufford puts it, "being unclean is not a temporary violation of the proper state of things. It is the normal human condition."
So Jesus, despite what the Pharisees and scribes thought, always ate with sinners. There's no one else to eat with.
This Jesus I love.
And it helps that there aren't pictures. None of them do him justice.
Thank you, God, for Jesus, who doesn't see things the way we do. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. He is the author of many books, including What’s Theology Got to Do With It: Convictions, Vitality and the Church. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.