We are very good at separating, classifying, and highlighting dangerous and toxic things. We live in a hyper clean world where everything is super clean and hygienic. Anything that is not, is clearly labelled ‘unsafe for human contact – its toxic. I have a bio-hazards container here. Everything that is deemed toxic and dangerous to us is placed in this container and disposed of. Why? If we touch it, we would become what we touch; toxic and dangerous. Then we too, would need to be clearly labelled and segregated until we either die from the contamination, or, some sort of treatment cleanses us of our toxicity.
Dangerous and toxic goods must be identified, segregated, clearly labelled and deemed definitely ‘off limits’ to all. There are other dangers too, which we are obsessed at trying to label as ‘off limits’. We are all familiar with this sort of stuff; ‘bunting’, safety vests and warning lights. All equipment designed with bright colours and fluorescent stickers to warn us of danger and to clearly label and segregate us from dangerous things; like holes in the ground, or a church hall that is falling down.
Toxic and dangerous things, we fear them and stay well clear. We simply don’t want to become what they are –dangerous and toxic, or worse still, we don’t want to die from contacting toxins or falling into a hole or by being hit on the head by a brick. Its all about self preservation.
However, have we taken these precautions one step further…in our quest for self preservation…in our infatuation with cleanliness and safety, have we labelled as ‘toxic’ and ‘dangerous’ even people? People who are different to us, people who, because they act differently and don’t have ‘Christian morals’, have we segregated them from us and label them as dangerous? Have we, because we know what is right and good, know what God expects of us, and know we can’t allow ourselves to be ‘toxified’ by these people, place them in a ‘toxic’ waste container to be disposed of; incinerated in hell? Out of sight and out of mind, in places like West Dubbo, or even here in North, or Wilcannia, Burke and other ‘out of the way places’?
Its very easy for us, who, because of the Holy Spirit, because we love Jesus, because we know what sin is, to become labellers and segregators; defining people…the toxic from the harmless; bunting off the good from the bad. It is very easy for us to always claim the high moral ground, and exclude from Christian fellowship, those who don’t make the grade. Very easy indeed!
Knowing this helps us to understand why Jesus offended so many people when he mixed with sinners; the unclean. Helps us understand why he angered the Pharisees and caused them to say ‘”Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” The Pharisees and ‘good, well meaning’ people, people like you and I, are prone to uphold God’s laws and Christian morals at the expense of mercy and forgiveness. Its as if we need to protect ourselves from their toxins. We bunting off the bad from the good; We classify the ‘sinners and tax collectors’ as toxic people and place ‘no go’ zones around them…they are dangerous. Like the Pharisees thought, to come into contact with these ‘sorts’ would mean becoming what they were; unclean; you would become, God forbid, a sinner like them!
However, nothing is ever black and white, or as we label and it mark it off. It would be different, Alex Solzenitsyn notes, if there were ‘evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being’…or as an article in Time magazine states ‘Evil is a word we use when we come to the limit of human comprehension. But we sometimes suspect that it is the core of our true selves’.
The reality is, the same toxic waste, the same dangerous goods, the same germ of sin we find in others we have separated from ourselves, even in the most diabolical homicidal manic, is present in our own self; in you and me. As the scriptures say ‘all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one.’
If anyone is to make a dividing line between good and evil, if it is anyone has the right to classify and segregate the toxic from the clean, it should be Jesus. It is Jesus, the Son of God, who knew sin better than any of us. It is Jesus who actually lived a holy life, who was without fault; it is Jesus who said ‘”If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at the adulterous woman.”. Yet does Jesus, holy and perfect in every respect and has the right to do so, put up the bunting and place ‘no go’ zones around sinners; around us?
Certainly not, he did the opposite. He not only ignored barriers, he tore them down. Jesus entered into our sinful world to destroy the barriers which separated sinners from God. Jesus crossed the bunting, pulled down the hazard lights and entered into the houses and the lives of toxic people; the lives of sinners…our lives, to forgive and to heal. He entered the house of Matthew the tax collector and ate with him.
And while he was eating many where attracted to the spectacle…some to join in with Jesus and enjoy his fellowship, receiving forgiveness and healing, they are the sinners. The others came to scoff and complain. “How can a godly man mix with such toxic people?” They are the righteous –the ones holding the high moral ground.
Jesus replies ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”’ In eating with the labelled, the sinners, in saying this, Jesus is demonstrating the gospel- the good news…Jesus mixes with sinners and heals them. (go through bunting to toxic box)
Jesus goes beyond the barriers goes where no man has gone before and opens the toxic waste box of people’s hearts, of our hearts; to reveal the brokenness, the regrets, the hostility and anger, the resentment, the shame and then he neutralizes it; sterilizes it by saying ‘its ok, I know what you have done, what you are, I forgive you, I give you a new start; and chance to right what you have wronged’.
The toxins of sin no longer have power when revealed and forgiven; toxin is not toxic, not deadly when neutralized. This is why St Paul boasts ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of sin no longer controls us when Jesus comes to have a meal. And he comes today, calling you to share a meal with him. Where he opens the lid on the toxins in your heart and neutralizes them by forgiving them with his blood.
The Lord’s Supper is our time to be detoxified; to be free to make another new start. To be made aware that before God, there is no bunting separating the good from the bad, no hazard lights indicating who might be dangerous…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
So as we leave Jesus’, let’s leave behind all the ‘safety gear we use to protect ourselves, to divide, to segregate, to ostracize others from ourselves. Let us leave behind the bunting and the moral high ground and remember Jesus words ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” That means Jesus has come to call you and me and it that means he has come to call everyone.