It is often said that those we spend the most time with have a heavy influence on our behavior and our choices. That is why as a young person parents often try to keep their children away from bad influences; they are worried that their child might be negatively influenced. Although this wisdom may have some truth when we come to the Biblical text and encounter Jesus we see him forsaking such wisdom. Jesus defies political, social, and religious systems and pushes past those who have established and secured these systems of division and hate to embrace those who stand in the margins.
There are many who would argue that Jesus supported systems and structures but I would argue that those who take such a stand are the same people who continue to support and uphold systems and structures of oppression and marginalization in our current political and religious institutions. For anyone who has a stake in losing power, or being marginalized they certainly will stick to the mainstream interpretations of Biblical text because it serves their cause and reinforces the power that has been provided for them. Throughout history we have seen where the Bible has been a tool used to support slavery, the suppression of women, the burning of witches, and the colonization of whole peoples and countries. Many would like to forget this dirty past, or justify such ignorance. Although the power that has been asserted with the Biblical text and has been abused there is still hope for those of us who are skeptical and critical of the text and those who wield it.
In the narrative when we find Jesus sitting around a table he typically is gathered with people who would have traditionally been considered sinners, unclean, and/or socially unacceptable. From the outside looking in the religious leaders of the day, shake their heads and say “Who is this man who eats with sinners.” Meanwhile Jesus says to these sinners, “You are my friends.” Jesus has a promise for all of those who have been tossed aside by the system. God in Jesus through the breaking of bread commits to the breaking of a system that has damned them, and not only “them” but us. Any Christian today who lives in our current Western culture who preaches that they are persecuted because they will have to share equal marriage rights with two people of the same gender, or because they have no say on how a pregnant teen deals with her pregnancy clearly are unaware of how much power they truly have, and how it is infecting our whole way of being in the world. There are plenty of places in the world where Christians are truly being persecuted but I can assure you that the United States is not one of those places.
The good news is that we are all welcome to eat with Jesus, and although there are some who would like to pick and choose who is welcome at the table, Jesus never sends anyone away. In fact the only person in scripture that Jesus sends away is the rich man who refuses to give up everything to follow him. So, if you find yourself paranoid about church and Jesus although you might have reason to be, the Jesus of the text and the God who inspired it stands with you. And for those of us who already consider ourselves Christians God is inviting us into a new way of being in the world where we are less worried about holiness and more worried about wholeness because ultimately that is what the reign of God on earth is all about.