This morning I received an email from a friend who is struggling with some issues in life and has taken part in some group settings with other people who are dealing with various other issues and struggles. I had previously told her that I'd heard from other people that the particular program she has attended has been very helpful to them. It's a setting in which people feel they can be real, honest and open, and are accepted and not condemned while they work through their issues, and where God brings healing.
In this email, my friend told me that she's found that to be true. She said it's "a great place to be yourself and feel completely accepted. It sort of reminds me of high school. I always found more acceptance from the stoners and party people than anyone else. Now, as a grown up, it still holds true!! LOL I think it's just because we have no place to judge. We know how imperfect we are, so who are we to judge?"
I remember a former pastor from several years ago talking about this. In short, he asked what it is about bars that draws people together. What is it about the local tavern that makes people want to leave the comfort of their homes and come and spend time together. To many 'religious' people, the answer is simply, "so they can go get drunk." Now, that of course has truth to it! And yet I think that's very shallow and it goes much deeper than that. People do this more for the fellowship than anything else. They enjoy one another. They do it for the comradery and mutual acceptance of one another.
People have one basic need in common. Wherever you go, no matter who you run into, this is a need that we all have - to feel loved and accepted. The love and acceptance of God and the love and acceptance of others goes a very long way in fulfilling an otherwise very deep void. Having this void filled changes everything. Am I exaggerating? I don't think so. Do you know someone who is struggling with an addiction or with low self-esteem or with any of a whole host of other struggles and issues in life? If you can get to the root of it, I believe you'll very often find that that void is there. It hasn't been filled with truth of the pure love and acceptance of God and/or it hasn't been filled with the love and acceptance of others. In some way, shape or form, it's missing.
And so, the end result is the opposite of a heart filled with love and acceptance. Guilt, shame and condemnation block the way, making it hard to fill the void with the truth of love and acceptance. It may be the guilt, shame and condemnation that others put on them, or it may be self-inflicted, or usually it's a combination. Either way, they keep struggling to fill the void but they keep trying to fill it with the wrong things because the truth continues to be blocked. And since the truth is blocked, the lies keep on flooding in.
Jesus came to unblock the truth. He came to remove the veil that covered the truth. He didn't look "over there" at sinners and shout over to them, "You'd better change your ways or God's gonna get you!" No, He went to where they were and He embraced them. He went into their homes and ate and drank with them. That's pretty significant! To sit down at someone's table and 'sup' with them was a sign that you accepted them.
Did Jesus spend time with the stoners and party people (harlots, tax collectors and sinners) for the purpose of getting stoned and partying (in the sense that they were partying)? I don't think so! But I do believe He hung out with them and ate and drank with them to show them that the kingdom of heaven was for them just as much as it was for the law-touting, self-righteous, finger-pointing religious people. In fact, He told them ("the chief priests and the elders of the people"), "Assuredly I say to you that tax collector and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you." Why? Is it because they got their acts together and cleaned up their lives? No, it's because they believed the good news. The self-righteous people thought God accepted them because of their righteousness, but Jesus proved to the harlots and sinners that God's acceptance of them wasn't based at all on their behavior.
They believed Him, and the self-righteous people didn't.