And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’LUke 5:30, NIV
There are certain “circling of the wagons” behaviors in which we tend to engage when we encounter people who defy our expectations, especially if they claim to represent the same values we represent, especially if they are growing in influence, perhaps becoming a movement. We get together with our friends–those who act like us–and we “discuss” the situation. Our goal primarily is not to understand. Our hearts do not embrace the notion of reconciling ourselves with this new movement. Our goal is to justify ourselves and to discredit those who threaten our manner of religion, even our way of life.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960, it was not uncommon for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be branded a Communist. King rejected the central tenants of Communism though he sympathized with some of its social aims. King’s prophetic message threatened the status quo. So, by applying the label “Communist” to King, critics sought to discredit him and to exclude his voice from any serious conversation.
When our goal is primarily to justify ourselves, we do not listen to people to understand, to answer, to influence, or to be influenced by them, we hear only enough to condemn and to discredit them. Those who are driven by the need to justify themselves are not interested in reconciliation.
One does not need to agree with everything Dr. King said in order to agree that we need to hear what he said. One does not need to accept all of the tenants promoted by BlackLivesMatter.com in order to acknowledge that the value of black lives has been diminished in our society and that “Black lives matter.” needs to be spoken as a corrective. Yet saying that black lives matter does little to change us unless we are willing to listen to the voices of black people.
I cherish the theological education I have received through my seminary training. I’ve read Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Welsey, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, C. H. Spurgeon, Billy Graham, and hundreds of other white guys. They all seem to reinforce not only my theological but also my cultural identity. Honestly, the fact that my theological formation has been wrought overwhelmingly by Europeans and Anglo-Americans has no doubt colored the lenses though which I read the scriptures. So I decided I needed a corrective. I started reading things by Thabiti Anyabwile, Justin Giboney, Dwight McKissic, and Jemar Tisby. I think I’ve read a total of one book written by a women in the last two years. I can’t remember that I’ve ever read a book written by a black woman. This will also need to be corrected.
It is quite natural—it doesn’t have to be intentional—to isolate ourselves in tribes and to listen only to voices that reinforce what we we already think. In fact, you have to be intentional to move outside your tribe and listen to the voices of those who come from different backgrounds and experiences than your own.
Now, if we—as representatives of Jesus Christ—are called to be ministers of reconciliation, can you see how this would be a problem? If we ignore or even refuse to acknowledge the problem, it suggests that our motivation is to justify ourselves.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”Luke 5:32, NIV
This is what it means to be self-righteous—to be obsessed with justifying yourself. This is what defined the Pharisees and their whole system. And here’s the painful, sobering truth: Jesus didn’t come to call the self-righteous–those who purport themselves as righteousness, but sinners to repentance.
If you’re in the habit of justifying yourself, Jesus doesn’t have anything to offer you. The well don’t need a physician. Jesus didn’t come for you.
Jesus came for sinners, for the addicts and the prostitutes, for the greedy and the swindlers, for the rioters and the arsonists, for the angry and the bitter, for the murderers and abortionists and the mothers who have had abortions. These people are sick. Yes, that’s who Jesus came for, the sick. Jesus has not given up on them; he came to call them to repentance.