Let's admit it, we all have our prejudices, whether they are intentional or not; whether they are voiced or not, most of us have them. It's not always even about skin color or station in life. Yet, in an era where we are surrounded by folks wearing multi-colored "WWJD" rubber bracelets, the question is no longer "WWJD", but "What DID Jesus do?"
I graduated from seminary in May of last year, and during my last semester I needed to complete a clinical practicum. It was supposed to be in a hospital setting as a chaplain, but I knew how to chaplain the sick, so I didn't feel like that would benefit me much. I asked the professor for a change of venue because there had been another professor who had really opened my eyes to a new way of looking at life; possibly even seeing folks through the eyes of Christ for the first time.
He, along with a few others, ran a hospitality house for the homeless in Memphis. I had never spent much time around folks who lived on the street, (Ok, I had never spent ANY time around folks living on the street) and thought that this would be a good experience for me. I had no idea how true that was going to be.
This was not a homeless shelter, but it was more than a warming station. They offered hot showers, clean clothes, dry socks, coffee to knock the chill, and sugar to take all of life's bitterness away. And it was there that I was transformed.
The first time I walked across the street I was terrified. I didn't know what to expect; I didn't know how I would be received, and I wasn't sure how I would receive them. Strange faces and cold hands were waiting on the porch for the doors to open, and you could tell immediately who had found a spot in a shelter the night before, or who had crawled out of a cat hole or from under a bridge. But as the coffee started flowing, and the hands began thawing, things began to change.
I won't mention any names as to protect the unaware, but there was one gentleman in particular that I become more acquainted with. For the first few weeks I watched, almost from a distance, as he and some of the other guests would sit and play scrabble (I know, that's what I thought too, homeless people don't play scrabble). Now, there was some creative spelling taking place, but it was all in fun. And then he did it...he invited me to sit down and play a game with him.
What was I supposed to do? I couldn't sit down with a homeless man and play scrabble. But he kept inviting and I kept finding excuses..."Let me check the coffee...I need to grab some creamer...the sugar jars are empty." However, I eventually ran out of excuses, so I sat down and we began to play. Over the next few months this man became very dear to me, and even now, nearly a year later, we still keep in touch.
While the act of sitting down to play a game of scrabble was, in and of itself, transformative, the greater transformation came the day he and I shared a soup kitchen bologna sandwich. That is when it became real for me, for the first time I think, just what it meant for Jesus to sit down and eat with folks that no one else would eat with. Folks watch who we share table with, and who we share table with says a lot about who we are, but more importantly, it speaks volumes about who is influencing our lives on a grander scale.
Now, please understand that I am not equating my new friends with the "sinners" in Mark's gospel, that wouldn't be fair. I am sharing this with you so that we may all realize how a gesture as simple as sharing table with someone can affect all those involved. Not just the ones at the table, but those who may be witnesses to it as well. The playing field is leveled at the table, and that's the way it should be.
"Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" The bigger question is..."Why not?"