A significant number of the news stories in an average day’s news run will be about people who want other people excluded from something – a place at the table, a share of the profits, a vote on the issue, a voice on the floor, a parking place, a dinner invitation, a ticket to the big game.
The most trivial issues can, with enough bad attitude and bad mouth, escalate into serious situations. Families – blood kin – are arguably most famous for getting on the outs with one another.
On a less intimate and often public level people who otherwise have many commonalities divide themselves because of political identities, which sometimes inexplicably obscure all sense of proportion and clear thinking.
The stories of the New Testament leap from the page in mirroring how the games people play have been distorting larger realities for a very long time.
In Matthew 9:9-13, there’s a story with which almost everyone can relate at some level:
“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
“And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’” (NRSV)
It seems that Jesus doesn’t put much store in self-generated affronts and self-righteousness. His interest clearly is not seeing things through the eyes of those who are convinced of their rightness – or righteousness. Jesus is interested in the people who know they are imperfect and seek a fellowship of people similarly situated in search of a touch of grace – like they found in company with Jesus.
It might be said that Jesus set a table to which many leaves were added as the crowd of sinners arriving for supper grew, and no one was turned away or shunned or given the silent treatment.
What would our families, communities and public life be like if Jesus’ way were the example followed instead of our business as usual?