By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist
God loves ordinary people, and that is one of the most amazing and hope-filled truths of the Christian faith.
That truth was Exhibit A in the Pharisees’ case against Jesus. Pharisees are hard people to make happy. As Jesus noted, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”’” (Matthew 11:18-19).
Maybe we still find the Lord’s choice of friends a bit troubling. We worry about his reputation.
I don’t believe Christ was a glutton. But I’m glad he evidently enjoyed good food as one of God’s excellent gifts.
I don’t believe he was a drunkard, but I’m glad that when the time came to make wine, Christ made the best and shared it as a good gift from God.
I doubt it’s the Almighty who is in question when we catch ourselves being “nicer” or more scrupulous than God.
Did you hear about the old gentleman who, when he learned that Jesus turned water into wine, said, “Well, the Bible says he did, and so I believe it, but I’d have thought more of him if he hadn’t.”
Similarly, I suppose we can make allowances for Christ’s choice of companions. One party the Pharisees pointed to took place when Jesus was “calling” Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle. He had to go where Matthew was, right? Even if he wasn’t comfortable there, right?
Well, yes. So the Lord has a good excuse. We can be okay with Christ eating and drinking with “sinners” as long as he doesn’t enjoy it, right?
I could be wrong, but I’m afraid the truth is far more scandalous than that. I’m afraid the Pharisees, wrong as they were, were right: God not only loves ordinary folks, he likes them. He actually prefers their company to that of the “high and holy.”
If that is true, and if God is completely good, then genuine “goodness” is not the cold and scrupulous, thin and sterile, thing folks, religious and not, have often thought it to be.
Maybe real goodness is not all about “Do this, but don’t do this,” the kind of rules that keep religious folks feeling religious and non-religious folks glad they aren’t religious.
Maybe the real purity and holiness God wants is something far deeper than either group thinks. Maybe real goodness is deep and full and rich, filled to the brim with joy and life, the life of God, and a person truly in love with God is filled with joy in a way that folks truly in love either with their “religion” or their own earthly appetites and desires, can never be.