Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine,and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
-Luke 7:31-35 (NIV)
Erin Cox just wanted to help a friend. She didn’t intend to become famous.
Two weeks ago, the senior honor student in the Boston suburb of North Andover received a call from a friend at a party. The friend had been drinking, and realized that she was too drunk to drive home. So, after she got off work, Erin drove to the party in a neighboring town to pick up her friend.
Moments after she arrived, the police showed up. They arrested a few of the kids there for underage possession of alcohol, and issued summons to several others. Erin was one of the kids summoned. It’s not all that clear why, as a police officer apparently wrote a statement to Erin’s mom saying that she hadn’t been drinking or in possession of alcohol - a statement she took to court Friday hoping to get Erin’s punishment revoked.
Right, punishment. Erin’s high school informed her that, by being at the party, she was in violation of the district’s zero tolerance policy against alcohol and drug use. By rule, she was demoted her from her position as captain of the volleyball team and told her she wouldn’t be allowed to play for five games.
We have a teenager in our house, and don’t want him drinking either. If a friend calls him too drunk to drive home, I hope he’ll tell me, and I’ll go with him to pick up the friend. But, if for whatever reason he chooses not to let me help, I wouldn’t be disappointed if he helped his friend in the same way Erin helped hers.
Erin is, at least, putting on a brave public face: “I felt like going to get her was the right thing to do,” she says. “Saving her from getting in the car when she was intoxicated and hurt herself or getting in the car with someone else who was drinking.” When asked if, knowing what she knows now, she thinks she made a mistake in going to pick up her friend, she answered that she would do it again. “It was the right thing.”
At the very least, maybe Erin will learn from this experience that doing the right thing isn’t always easy. It risks misunderstanding and condemnation. It can be subject to criticism. It opens us up to the evaluation of others, others who perhaps don’t care for the light our actions shine on them or on society in general. Doing what’s right can be scandalous, controversial. Ask Erin about that. Ask Jesus.
Jesus had friendships that scandalized the religious folks of his time. The church crowd sneered at him over their potluck dinners for his associations with the “sinners.”
“Did you hear that he ate with that tax collector in Jericho?”
“I heard he let - well, you know, one of those women - interrupt a dinner over at Simon the Pharisee’s. Heard he let her touch him, even.”
“Who is he to tell us anything? He’s a glutton and a drunk. He’s a friend of sinners.”
What’s worse, of course, is that Jesus didn’t seem to think that being a friend of sinners was behavior that he needed to defend. “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” he once scolded some of the uber-righteous. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” As Paul would reflect later: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst.”
Sounds like he was glad, as we all should be, that Jesus is a friend to sinners.
So if there are scandalous friendships in your life, then you’re standing just where Jesus stood.
Unless, of course, you’re under the impression that friendship is synonymous with “live and let live.”
Jesus saw his mission as comparable to a doctor’s mandate to heal his patients. He went to that little tax collector’s house and enjoyed his hospitality. He was no doubt a gracious guest. But Jesus’ friendship changed the little tax collector’s life. That woman who interrupted the polite church dinner did so because she had been transformed by her friendship with Jesus. Paul said Jesus came to save sinners - not just to hang out with them.
Scandalous friendships are often used by God to change lives. But not if they require us to compromise our identity in Jesus.We must make sure that our friends know who we are. If they don’t know us as people who follow Jesus, how is God glorified in those friendships? And how will we help people who might be lost, stranded, and alone come to know him?
So, please - have scandalous friendships. The kind people whisper about behind your back. The kind that are open to misunderstanding by people who have little imagination for the way God works. You don’t have to defend it, or explain it, or smooth the ruffled feathers of people who don’t get it. The church is not a gated community. Let’s open the gates and be friends with those outside: to love them as they are, believing that Jesus will transform them into who they were meant to be. Let’s love them by standing by them, being there when they call, and speaking and showing the gospel of Jesus to them in the midst of their sometimes messy lives. Let’s love them enough to let them be themselves with us, and to be who we really are with them.
And if people don’t like it, or don’t understand it, so be it. We’re in good company.