Friday, October 09, 2015


The language of scandal is ever connected to the church. In the days of Jesus, the scandal was Jesus hanging out with sinners and tax gatherers. Sinners were such notorious people as prostitutes, gluttons and drunkards. Tax gatherers were quite literally tax gatherers but this was an epithet that carried the broad net of those in cahoots with the foreign powers, the Romans, and their underlords.

This sort of language goes off quite well. Who would stand up for prostitutes or for IRS men? To do so would be to be weak on sin, or weak on crime, or weak on the encroachments of the state. The conservative looking thing to do is to stand against Jesus when He stands with such sinners. But what are you conserving?

Jesus blasts this all. He does not accuse the Pharisees of wickedness because they are righteous. We get that story confused. Sure, they were self-righteous, but self-righteousness is not the same thing as righteous.

Was His gathering of sinners, righteous, then? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? The gospel story is both more complex and more simple than sorting out good guys and bad guys. It is complex in that it doesn't make sense to us. The guys we thought were good, the conservatives, the Pharisees, are not really good. The guys we thought were good intentioned, the progressives, the Sadducees, were also playing games. Jesus does not accuse them of being over righteous or honestly confused. He accuses them of being wicked!

But for the easily recognized wicked, Mary Magdalene, Zaccheus, the answer is simple. Lord, forgive me. They were honest about their wickedness and thus found forgiveness in Jesus. But the self-proclaimed righteous were in no need of forgiveness. And their self-proclamation is given the lie when they seek to protect adulterers, produce false witnesses, steal from parents in need and commit fornication. They accuse the repentant of being wicked but they, themselves,  commit the acts of the wicked, and justify themselves in the process.

Jesus accepts this sort of scandal because He knows the truth will win out. And all that follow Him are likely to be scandalized. Do not despair. You are in good company.

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