Jesus in the Margins: Part 1-- Paradox
I've been ruminating again about Jesus' life with the marginalized of 1st century Judaism. I'm going to ponder in print some of my thoughts.
We often think that Jesus left his surburban bungalow on the green hillside of Galilee and went into the big city and sought out the disadvantaged. How good of Jesus to condescend and go to the marginalized, the outcasts, the rejects, the down-trodden. What a model of servant-leadership. I wonder if my shiny Hummer can navigate the narrow inner city streets?
Wait a minute. Jesus, himself, was born into and lived in the margins of his society. He was the ultimate outcast, the "sinner," the man with disreputable beginnings and unholy (read illegal) practices.
Good news. Jesus changed the margins. He dared to draw new lines of acceptance with God the Father. Jesus paradoxically made being marginal central.
Imagine that I announce to my Northview neighborhood that teenagers on the verge of getting their driver's licenses can meet me in a local school parking lot at a certain time. I will train them for free how to start a car, drive and park a car, learn to operate a manual shift, change a flat tire, check the oil, etc. I get approval from every authority interested and the area folk think, "How nice. That old, grey-bearded guy is helping our kids prepare to drive. And he's doing it for free."
One day, however, the teens come home, jumping for joy.
"Mom, Dad, I got my driver's license today!"
"You what? Let me see that."
"Yeah, the old guy who's been training us issued our licenses today. Isn't that wicked?!"
"Hey, settle down. This 3 X 5 card with a polaroid picture taped to it isn't exactly a driver's license."
Word gets out and soon the Michigan Secretary of State sends some authorities to check out this unusual and illegal behavior. Teens are being arrested for driving with a lumpy 3 X 5 card as a valid license.
"Uh, Reverend Frye, you can't just issue driver's licenses like this. We appreciate your help getting the teens road ready and all that, but you can't issue a license to any of them. That is the job of the State of Michigan."
Jesus is famous for his meal-time habits. His eating habits are one of the most reliable and uncontested features of his life. Jesus ate with people in the margins. For a God-fearing Jew, he ate with the wrong people. But that in itself could be tolerated. "Birds of a feather flock together. He eats with 'sinners' because he's a 'sinner.' "
What got Jesus in trouble was issuing licenses, so to speak. He said, "At my table, you are sitting right in the middle of the Kingdom of God. Eat up. Drink. Laugh. The kingdom is for you!!"
"Uh, Rabbi Jesus, we're from the Temple...you know, the big one in Jerusalem. You just can't go around telling people, especially these people, that they are in the kingdom of God. That's the priests' job."
Jesus with a furious twinkle in his eye says, "Oh, no, my Temple friends, you've got it all wrong. It IS my job. And I'm doing it."
At Jesus' table Deborah, the prostitute, passes a bunch of grapes to Matthew, a tax-collector, and the cups of wine spark laughter (for Anne Lamott laughter is "carbonated holiness"). Deborah and Matthew wonder aloud what they will ask Abraham when they sit at the table with him. Jesus had said that they would eat with their ancestors in the faith.
"I never knew there was a place at this table for me," Deborah says quietly. "I don't look like a Pharisee. I don't talk like one and I, for sure, don't act like one. I never did learn to talk 'Pharisee.' "
"Nor I, " says Matthew, "but here we are! In the middle of the Kingdom of God."
Bread, fruit, lamb and wine. Laughter. Heaven and earth meet at the table.