Sunday, February 23, 2014

Invite Gays to The Table

Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson, Arizona is bravely taking a clear stand against the hateful "turn away the gays" bill by posting this sign in their window, "We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators."

What are Arizona legislators afraid of? Do they think gayness rubs off? Like leprosy? They think business owners should be able to legally discriminate against gay people because the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination?

The Bible says lots of things. The Bible says Jesus didn't just allow "sinners" to dine in the same eating establishment as him. He invited them to His Table:

Mark 2:15-18
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

15 And 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. 16 When 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?" 17 When 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.”

Discrimination in the name of religious liberty isn't just unfair. It's an abomination. Jesus didn't teach us to cast each other aside. Jesus invited us all to feast at His table.

I really like what blogger Jirair S. Tashjian says about the story:

"Yet, Jesus apparently associated with such people at dinner parties. The Pharisees charged that Jesus was "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). Even though Jesus belonged to the middle class, he reached out to people of the lower class. On one occasion Jesus said to some religious leaders in Jerusalem, "The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you" (Matthew 21:31).

It's not hard to see why the Pharisees and others were upset that Jesus had table fellowship with people who were morally questionable. These individuals were profiting by disobeying the command of God and betraying their own people. They were what the Old Testament calls the wicked, unworthy to be part of the people of God.

Now, if Jesus had fellowship with tax collectors and sinners in order to preach to them, the Pharisees would not have fussed. After all, who would have objected that tax collectors and sinners were forsaking their sinful lifestyle, making restitution, and seeking a life of righteousness? The Pharisees believed that God offered forgiveness when sinners repented. They could even rejoice that a wretched sinner saw the light and was converted from a life of debauchery.

But what infuriated the Pharisees was that Jesus was not explicitly or directly asking tax collectors and sinners to do any of this. Some of them no doubt did repent, such as Levi (Luke 5:28). But Jesus seems to have accepted them as they were and was freely having dinner with them without requiring that they first clean up their lives.

Of course, Jesus did have a message to proclaim to them. But his message was not, "Straighten up your life and keep the law." Rather, his message was, "The kingdom of God is yours; you are included."

I invite people who wish to invoke their "religious freedom" by shunning gay people to, instead, act like Jesus and invite gays to The Table.

The Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese, 1573 (oil on canvas)