Those People

During Lent I read Henri Nouwen’s From Fear to Love: Lenten Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s a small booklet, more like a pamphlet really, with short daily readings. If you can find a copy I highly recommend it. Over the next few posts I’ll share some of my own reflections on the story.

It is one of the most familiar and loved New Testament stories, and why wouldn’t it be? It demonstrates the unconditional love of a father to a son who leaves with his undue share of the father’s estate and spends it on foolish living. 

The parable is the third in a series Jesus told after the religious leaders complained that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So they might comprehend the joy he had over welcoming and eating with sinners, Jesus told stories about the lost sheep, a lost coin, and the lost son. We all know the joy of finding something we’ve lost – getting back something we thought we’d never have again. Unfortunately, we have plenty of evidence to prove that the religious leaders did not get what Jesus was saying.

Do We Really?

Do we get it?

Until recently, I’ve not given much thought to the religious leaders in the passage found in Luke 15. Their complaint reveals what they believe about sinners, Jesus, and themselves. They believe sinners are not like them. If those people who Jesus welcomes and eats with are sinners, then they are not.

And just like that, they’ve created an us-versus-them dynamic. The religious leaders follow the law, and “those people” do not. The religious leaders are on the inside and sinners are on the outside. The religious leaders are loved by God, and “those people” are not. And if Jesus hangs out with those people, then he must be one of “them.”

Intentionally or not, the religious leaders deemed themselves whole and righteous. Jesus says in Matthew 5:32, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” The leaders had no need for Jesus. No need for what he offered. No need for repentance. Following the law had them covered. Their rituals provided all the security they wanted. The outsides of their cups were squeaky clean.

We’re All Those People

We’re not unlike the religious leaders. We put people in categories, especially those different from us. We do it in all kinds of ways. Some are more obvious than others, but we have our own version of “those people.” And what we don’t see is that we ourselves are someone’s “those people.” Look at those Christians yelling about ________________. Look at those religious people banning _______________. (Fill in the blanks with the ever growing list of what we fear.) Look at those church goers enabling the abuse of those within the congregation. Look at them covering for the abusers.

Thanks be to God, Jesus loves those people. He loves you and he loves me and he loves them.

Jesus loves us.

 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:11-12

Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

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