Several years ago a man who lived nearby lost his son in a tragic car crash. Although he wasn’t a Christian he approached me, as the local minister, to take his son’s funeral.
In the process of helping plan the funeral and caring for him and his wife, the two of us became friends. Each time we met he would ask about my faith, until one day he called to ask if I would meet with him and several of his friends.
“I want you to tell them about God!” he said. “I have tried to tell them what you have been telling me and now they all want to meet you!” I had just agreed to meet them all for a beer and a chat at the local rowing club when my friend said,
It’s going to be a great night. There’s even going to be strippers!”
My heart stopped as my Christian ministry in a small community flashed before my eyes.
Oh!” I said, “If there’s going to be strippers then I can’t come.”
The phone went dead.
I have many regrets about what I said on the phone that day. I did not say what I said because I felt in any moral danger, but because I feared what other Christians might think and say. My need to ‘control’ my reputation took precedence over showing love and acceptance to a group of guys in a genuine search for God. And sadly, despite my many subsequent attempts, our friendship was never restored.
Now I’m pretty sure that, in my position, Jesus would have gone to the rowing club that night. Despite the entertainment that was going to be on offer.
I know this from the gospels that show us a man who spent most of his time with the ‘dregs’ of Israeli society: women, prostitutes, tax collectors, non-Jews, the poor, the uneducated and the ritually unclean.
From a distance of two millennia it is easy to look kindly on his social choices – ‘Jesus, friend of sinners’. But, quite frankly, from a first century perspective it didn’t work like that.
If Jesus wasn’t like these people, then why was he spending time with them? Mud sticks, and Jesus became talked of as a ‘glutton’ and a ‘drunkard’. In loving the social outcasts of his day, Jesus put his own reputation on the line and pretty much destroyed it.
But should this surprise us? Whenever we choose to love someone we automatically move from a position of safety to a place of vulnerability. We risk being rejected, abused and misunderstood. Or, as CS Lewis put it,
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even to an animal.”
Jesus’ primary concern was to love the unlovable, regardless of the cost to his reputation and ultimately to his life.
As true followers of Jesus, do we really have any other option?
Kerry Dixon is an inner city minister and activist who speaks and writes about grace, faith, and social justice. Kerry is the Executive Director of Signpost International, an organization focused on community transformation through listening to the voice of people living in poverty. He is also a co-leader of Community Church Dundee, a group of Christians who are committed to establishing a tangible community dedicated to Loving God, Sharing Life and Serving Generously. Kerry is married to Fiona and has five children. He lives and works in Scotland.