Scrambling Our Categories of Religiousity

There’s an old saying that “birds of a feather flock together.” It’s common for human communities to shun people who are different from us or who disregard what we consider to be accepted standards of behavior. One of the reasons why many churches don’t grow is because we’ve become too comfortable with a fellowship of like-minded and like-mannered people.

A common criticism is that Christians are judgmental. Such judgmental attitudes among religious people have probably been with us ever since humans have gathered to worship and form religious communities. Jesus completely broke with such religious prejudices when he hung out with and even partied with all the wrong kinds of people. The religious leaders complained that he ate with tax-collectors and sinners and accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton (Matthew 11:19).

Think of all the different ways Jesus broke the mold of who they thought self-respecting, righteous people are and what they should act like. Jesus wasn’t only doing his religious duty by “ministering” to such people, he was their friend and obviously enjoyed being with them. Another matter is that these people weren’t necessarily folks who needed help. Instead, people like Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene didn’t fit into the conventional sensibilities of those who considered themselves to be religious.

What do we make of Jesus’ response to those who criticized him of having too much fun hanging out with such people? Who is sick, who needs a physician, who are the righteous, and who are the sinners? Jesus scrambled all these categories. And to make sure they got it, he quoted the Prophet Hosea, “God desires mercy, not sacrifice” (6:6).

How are the categories of religiosity constructed in our churches and in our community? In other words, who wouldn’t receive a warm welcome in our church? In what ways is Jesus scrambling those categories for us?

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