My Safe Friends

Mark 2

15And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples – for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Why does he hang out with sinners? Why does he insist on keeping bad company? It’s a good question. I wonder what made the Pharisees ask it? Was it because they legitimately didn’t understand the Master’s motives? Was it because they felt ignored? If Jesus was going to blow them off for someone it should at least be people of higher status? Or was it because being around sinners was unsafe? Not just unsafe in the “you might get your wallet stolen” kinda way, but unsafe in the “what would this do to my reputation” kinda way. See, the problem with Jesus’ hanging out with bad company is that it forces us to keep bad company if we want to spend time with Jesus. The Pharisees wanted Jesus without the bad company.

Most of my friendships are with safe people. I hang out with a lot of pastors and church folks. I have lots of friends in the non-profit world and many people with similar sympathies. I don’t hang out with many tax collectors or sinners. When I do spend time with the “sinners” it is usually in a very transactional way. I am providing some sort of service and they are on the receiving end. I am shielded, to an extent, by the hierarchy created by service. Maybe Jesus was too, to some extent.

January of 2o14 I checked myself into a crisis center. My ex-wife had finally gotten fed up with my antics and asked me to leave the house. I was on the verge of losing my job. While I was at the center, I hung out in the lobby near the TV. I read. I journaled. I watched whatever edited for TV movie was decided on by the committee. In that space, I was surrounded by the people that I am used to serving. We were on the same plane. I had options available to me many of them may not have had. Maybe some of them had options that weren’t apparent. I felt out of my element and longing for the safety of the friendships that I knew.

Another thing happened around that time; I lost a whole bunch of friends. To many, I became the bad company. It’s weird. Bad decision-making is not contagious, but I became an undesirable. I know there is more complexity to the story than how I’ve spelled it out here, but in those moments, I became the sinner, the one whose reputation was to be avoided.

I try to hold on to memories of those times. I don’t ever want to lose those feelings I had in those early months. I don’t ever want anyone to feel like they are beneath me because no one is. I don’t anyone to think that I don’t want to be seen with them. And even if I am in a position of service, I don’t ever want anyone to feel like I have power to lord over them. I repent that I have often sought out friendships that are safe and sterile to avoid the risk to myself instead of thinking through what healing might develop through our friendship. Healing on both sides. I feel like I could use a few more sinners and tax collectors in my life.

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