Author: Belgian Friar

About Belgian Friar

Paul is currently the Pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in St. Louis Park, MN, where he and his wife live and are doing their best to live in the Way of Jesus with their three children. Paul boldly affirms Ferris Bueller's admonition that "life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and slow down once in a while, you might miss it." You can follow Paul on Twitter for a weird mix of tweets about sports, the church, faith, current events and sometimes all out nonsense by searching @belgianfriar.

Mark 3:31-35 | A Growing Family

jon-tyson-Es6wM0ASCAU-unsplashIt’s at this point in the narrative that it seems to me that Jesus is just getting smarmy and I think needs a vacation. He’s had a rough go of it lately: He’s been doing the hard but good work of healing and casting out demons, and crowds of people have been following him. On top of that the religious and political leaders are challenging the authenticity and authority of these acts. So he’s doing hard work to begin with, he’s then got the whole superstar thing going on, the authorities of the day don’t like any of it, and at this point he’s just come off of what I perceive to be a heated argument with those authorities. So I think it’s reasonable to think that Jesus is getting a little stressed and edgy.

It’s in this context that his mother and brothers come out to him “asking for him”. The text doesn’t tell us what they want. It could be that they have something for him to do or that they want to talk to him about something, which would be just one more thing on his plate. But I wonder (and I think “wonder” is about all we can do here) if they just wanted him to get away from the crowds. I wonder if they’re worried about him. I wonder if they simply wanted to get him away, get him in the house, and force him to rest a little. And it’s here that Jesus’ smarminess comes out, but also perhaps the reach of his mission and purpose is revealed.

In response to his mother and brothers asking for him is, “Who are my mother and my brothers… here are my mother and my brothers.” There’s a smarminess in this, at least as we read it through our lens today. Once again this is not the nicey-pants-patient-flannelgraph Jesus with children on his knee. This is a smarmy, edgy, not always so pleasant Jesus. But it’s also a focused Jesus. I don’t think he is disowning his mother and brothers here. What he’s doing is stepping into his distinct role as the Son of God that role is to tear the heavens open. Perhaps just as our own John Wesley said hundreds of years ago, “the world is my parish”, Jesus is taking that a step further here and saying “the world is my family”. Who are my mother and brothers? All of these are my mother and brothers. Smarmy though he may sound, he is also naming us as children of God, by virtue of naming us the siblings to the Son of God.

Sometimes when we expand the boundaries of who is in, those who are already in feel like they are being excluded. As new people come in, it can feel like there’s no place for me anymore. This is, perhaps, how the religious elite felt in Jesus’ day, and could have been part of what fueled their anger toward him. I wonder if Jesus’ family felt the same here. By naming the crowd as his family, did they feel like they didn’t fit anymore? Sometimes it can be hard to welcome in the crowds because then we feel less important. But we must remember that as the doors of the Kingdom of God fling wide open, and the crowds are welcomed in, it doesn’t mean that those on the inside don’t count anymore. It’s just a growing family.

Enough: UMC Polity is Not Serving Us Well

This week things kind of blew up in the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. As I outline my thoughts, I want to be clear that I believe the vast majority of people involved here mean well. Our Bishop means well, and he has been called upon to walk us through some historically tumultuous times. These are confusing times. Here’s the timeline as I understand it:

  • February 2019: The UMC passes the Traditional Plan, which strengthens prohibitions on all things LGBTQ+ inclusion in the UMC system.
  • May 2019: The Minnesota UMC passes two key items: One rejecting the Traditional Plan at an 80% margin. One, a boldly inclusive aspirational vision at an 85% margin.
  • Summer 2019: A complaint is filed against a queer clergy person in the MNUMC. Bishop Ough does not process nor does he dismiss the complaint.
  • Fall 2019: Because of Congregational strife wherein she is the subject, she resigns from that appointment.
  • December 2019: A plan of separation in the UMC is drafted by representatives of many of the differing parties in the UMC system (many, but not all) is announced. It gets a lot of national press.
  • January 12, 2020: The Star Tribune publishes an article about this plan of separation, but also about the queer clergy person in Minnesota about whom the complaint was filed. Subsequently, progressive Methodists in Minnesota write and post letters and calls to the Bishop to dismiss the complaint.
  • January 13, 2020: The Bishop dismisses the complaint.

If I got any facts wrong here, please gently correct me. artem-maltsev-EbjW1dK9Xic-unsplash

I was one who wrote an email to the Bishop and posted it on my blog. The trick to all of this is that in it the Bishop has been quiet as a way of protecting the confidential HR issues within it. I get that. I respect that. There is a lot to be said about this, and there is a lot that folks like me simply don’t know. That needs to be noted. With that in mind, however, here is my primary learning through this:

On matters of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Church, UMC polity is broken and doing harm. United Methodist polity and doctrine as outlined in The Book of Discipline (our governing book), cannot justly solve these issues at both the macro and micro levels, because it is United Methodist polity and doctrine that created them. Our Bishop did what a Bishop is called to do, which is work the system to come to a just resolution. But the system itself has been exploited in such ways that more harm was done. It is not merely the Traditionalist wing of the UMC that is bringing harm to our LGTBQ+ siblings. It is the Traditionalist wing exploiting the polity in such way that the UMC system itself as well is doing harm.

From what I see, what happened here is that there is a process in place which our Bishop chose to follow (and which he is charged with following) that perpetuated and left room for increased harm to come to this clergy person and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. This is why I am not in favor of a merely LGBTQ+ inclusive version of what we already have in the UMC. That would be better, but we would still be submitting to a broken system, and the harm won’t stop, it will merely reimagine itself. Polity should exist to serve the Church, but now the Church is serving the Polity and the result is active harm being done in an institution whose first General Rule is “do no harm”.

As we approach the day when we remember the life and work of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I cannot help but think of his words in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which to me today are a like clarion call to the United Methodist Church in our relationship to our polity on these matters: “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”.

There comes a time when for the sake of what is truly right and good and just, a leader has to say, “I don’t care what the rules are, this is harmful, I’m shutting it down, and I’m doing so right now“. There comes a time when privileged folk like me have to muster the courage for the sake of others and say, “no, I will not follow that rule”. There comes a time when it doesn’t matter that it is the sabbath: We need to heal that person anyway. It’s what is right and good and just. Those stories of Jesus violating the letter of law to live out the spirit of it are staring us in the face today. It’s hard to do. As I’ve reflected over the last few days, I can see where I’ve perpetuated harm as a leader in similar ways. Lord, have mercy and grant me the grace to do better.

And this is why it is so vital that marginalized voices are centralized. Because what this week has taught me is that it’s harder to buck the system when the system works well for you. We need to step aside and let those for whom the system hasn’t worked well shape a new way of being. And for some of us, that’s going to be uncomfortable. But it’s good.

Bishop Ough has since published a statement which is available here.  I cannot imagine the hours of sleep has lost trying to do the right and good thing in a complicated system and in a tumultuous time over the years. I appreciate him, his heart, and his work. Pray for Bishop Ough. And pray for our LGBTQ+ siblings and allies who have been and continue to be harmed by our Church.

But as I said in my letter: Justice was compromised the moment this complaint was filed, and it should have been shut down right away, because justice continued to be compromised and harm continued to be inflicted with every second it remained. If we are going to live into the vision to which we voted to aspire in May, we are going to have to ready ourselves for massive and uncomfortable systemic changes. Enough is enough.

Mark 3:20-30 | Unforgivable Sin?

sandrachile-9yFgBMK4IMs-unsplashDo you sense the tension? We are only in chapter 3 and the tension between Jesus and the religious establishment is sky high, and has been since the beginning of chapter 2. Already in chapter 3 it is starting to bubble over, and the nicey-pants-flannel-graph-Jesus with children on his knee appears to be absent here. This Jesus is one with whom many of us are uncomfortable. One of the most troubling verses in the Bible comes at the end of this passage, and not only are these words in the Bible, they come from the mouth of Jesus: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of eternal sin” (3:29, emphasis added). What is Jesus getting at here? Is this true? Is there unforgivable sin?

Well, there is certainly an argument that says “yes”. It’s right there in the text. You don’t have to stretch to find it. But I’ll be honest with you: I struggle with that interpretation. It doesn’t match up with the broader Biblical narrative of God’s steadfast love embodied in the life and work of Jesus. My interpretation is only mine, and is not without flaws, but here’s how I see this:

These words from Jesus do match up with the radical grace and forgiveness that we often ascribe to Jesus who said of his accusers and condemners as he was crucified, “forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Any singluar verse must be understood within the grand sweep of the broader narrative. Is it possible that there is a specific and universal “unforgivable sin”? Yes. I have to concede that. But is it also possible that there’s more to this than that? I think so.

You see, Jesus is saying this in a very specific context. He’s talking to those who are angry with him, threatened by him, trying to trap him, and with whom he now knows that he cannot do anything right. They are going to critique anything and everything he says and does, and have in fact already set out to get him killed, because what he’s saying and doing is turning their system upside down. I think that informs Jesus’ response here. I think he knows he can’t win with these guys, so he’s jabbing them. He is, in a sense, fighting fire with fire. I think he’s saying, “they have me pegged as destined for eternal hellfire with no hope of redemption so I will throw it right back on them”.

I will admit this could be a stretch, but I think it’s possible that what Jesus is doing here is naming the un-penetrable wall they have put up with him, and he is then distancing himself from them. I think he’s closing the door on the relationship with them, essentially saying, “look, until we can sit down and have a real conversation, we’re done. So just as you can find ‘evidence’ to condemn me to hell, so too can I with you.”

I think it’s possible that what Mark is doing with this narrative is not so much giving us a rule about unforgivable sin as he is setting up the irreparably broken relationship between Jesus and the religious establishment, who are the ones who hold the power to condemn him. Remember, much of Mark is fast track to the cross, so in order to get there, Mark has to set up the relationships and context that will get there. So let’s be careful to take these singular verses and make grand sweeping statements about all of humanity with them. It’s a dangerous, and sometimes literally lethal, game. The Bible is not a “users manual for life”. It is a story. A user’s manual has no context. A story depends on it.

These are tough verses- so let’s not universally apply them to our neighbors; but let’s move toward these verses being okay with having some uncertainty about them, and let’s wonder about them. And, most importantly, let’s ask of such verses, “what is it asking of me?”

Mark 3:13-19 | A Kingdom of Misfits

lena-varzar-9ggtptO7b1o-unsplash.jpgWe are obsessed with qualifications in our culture. We are entirely merit based. When we hire we want quality resumes, with commensuate experience to the job description, and then we put people through interviews where we try our best to test out whether they will be a rock star in our organization or not. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And here in the midst of all the insanity of Jesus’ work and increasing fame, Mark pauses as Jesus calls the 12 Apostles, or as commonly known “The 12”.

These are not rock stars. They have no resume. And their experience mostly consists of fishing and tax collecting. Jesus has passed by the religious and theological experts of the day, and there is nothing in these 12 about which we would think that they would be Jesus’ choice: There’s a couple of hot-heads in James and John. Simon Peter will annoy, and then ultimately publicly deny Jesus. Simon the Zealot will be constantly pushing the overthrow of Rome, Matthew (Levi) will have little credibility in the community because he was a tax collector, and, well, Judas’ job title is already set: “Betrayer”.

So why does Jesus choose them? We don’t really know, except maybe to say this: In God’s Kingdom, no one is disqualified, but for those who self-select out because of who else is invited. There were likely more than just The 12 following Jesus, but there were others who are offended by who he calls and who hangs with, so they left. Some even began plotting how to stop him. We saw this in chapter 2. Jesus’ key followers are a band of misfits. We are a kingdom of misfits, an island of misfit toys.

Do you ever feel like you don’t belong? You might look like you belong, but you don’t feel like you do? Welcome. Welcome to the Kingdom of God. Step fully into the you that the world may think odd, and you may just be stepping into the work and call Jesus has for you. Be your truest self. It may disqualify you from something here in this world, but in it will you find the Kingdom of God.

Mark 3:7-12 |The World Tour

I don’t ever recall a story in the Gospels where the crowd is this intense. Jesus’ ministry is picking up so much steam that this starts to read like a rock star’s “Behind the Music”. His disciples have been reduced to handlers whose job is to control the groupies, and the regions he is soon to1226087345002_f visit read like a tour schedule. Can’t you see the T-Shirt? Black with a kickin’ image of Jesus on the front with his hand outstretched to the viewer in a healing motion; on the back is a list going down the shirt, “Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, Tyre and Sidon.” Only so far these are people coming to him from these far regions. But just wait: A world tour is coming soon.

I find interesting is that Jesus never seems to relish in the fame. He almost seems to reject it. I’ll be honest, if I started a movement and it picked up steam at that rate, I’d be celebrating it. If you thought I was obnoxious on social media now… But Jesus seems almost annoyed with the fame. There’s no t-shirt, no speaking tour, no Facebook Live events, no book signing, no retweets, no selfies with adoring fans. Jesus stays as afar away from all of that as he can, as though he recognizes that the fame is simply what naturally comes with the ministry of “curing every disease, casting out evil, and proclaiming good news to those who suffer”. And that’s his focus. He knows that’s what matters, and if he gets caught up in his own success, the mission will fail.

When it comes to our faith and our mission, I often will say that it’s all about Jesus, but for Jesus it’s not about Jesus. It’s about the Kingdom of God tearing open to the masses. Which is why the list of cities is important. If you were a First Century Jewish person this list very well may have caught you off guard: “Jerusalem”. Yes, of course. “Idumea”. A bit obscure, but sure. “Beyond the Jordan” or “Trans-Jordan”. Kind of the “the other side of the tracks”, but still one of us, so ok. And then “Tyre and Sidon”. What? This area was outside of Jewish Territory, and because of this it was “outside”. It was simply a place and a people other than us and who don’t belong to us or with us. In this sense it was not part of the “kingdom”. But this kingdom is tearing wide open. This kingdom is not only stretching the boundaries, it’s tearing them apart. This kingdom is a kingdom for all, so let’s go. Let’s go to Jerusalem, let’s go to the Jordan, and let’s go to Tyre and Sidon.

Where is your Tyre and Sidon? Where is your “outsider” place with people with whom you’d rather not associate, people you’d rather not be “in”. Prayerfully ask God to reveal to you your Tyre and Sidon today. Name it, and as hard as it may be to admit, own it. Because Jesus is headed there. Jesus is headed to your Tyre and Sidon and to mine. A world tour is coming. Will we follow?

Mark 3:1-6 |Come Forward

Once again, there is Jesus doing things on the Sabbath that he’s not supposed to do. He’s ruffling the feathers of the religious establishment, but not just to be a pain- he’s doing this because the religious establishment has lost its heart. It’s forgotten why it exists. It’s christopher-burns-pzMP-RGJ7mY-unsplash.jpgbecome a machine to be served rather than a hand to serve the world.

Here Jesus heals a man with withered hand on the sabbath, and the establishment watched, waiting to pounce with accusations. Before they can do anything or Jesus does anything, Jesus asks, “is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save or to kill?” These are strong words. Is Jesus saying that if he had not done anything at all that his passivity and adherence to the sabbath laws would have been equal to doing harm and even killing?

Maybe. That’s possible, and it’s a good point to think about in our own lives. Does our passivity on certain issues or in certain situations do harm? We don’t like to think so, but isn’t it possible that simply not doing the good and right thing is doing harm? Next Monday we rememberer the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Take time to read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail and you tell me if our passivity does harm.

But there’s another interpretation of this, that I think may be what Jesus is getting at: I wonder if the “harm” and “killing” is not about the choice Jesus had of obeying the sabbath laws and doing nothing for this man, as it is about what the religious establishment begins to put into motion when he heals him. I wonder if what Jesus is saying here is “are you really going to tell me that me healing this man is a greater violation than your plot to kill me for doing so?” You would think he’s got them in a box here, but yet we still read at the end of the story, “The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him”.

Sometimes the rules of our systems get in the way of what is right and good and just. And that means sometimes it is better to break the rules than to withhold what is right and good and just. Jesus isn’t the first to do this. There is never a bad or wrong time to extend a (in this case literal) healing hand. The Kingdom into which Jesus is calling us in Mark is not like any in this world. It is a Kingdom not defined borders and constitutions and laws, but is a kingdom defined by the people for whom those borders and constitutions and laws exist. Most of the structures in our world begin with good intentions, with what is good for the people in mind. But over time our systems and structures stop serving us and we end up serving them.

The Kingdom to which Jesus calls us is one where we don’t see palaces and thrones, but people. It’s a kingdom where we really see people. In this story Jesus in the thick of the systems to which he belongs. He’s in the synagogue and religious leaders are watching him. But what he sees is a man with a withered hand, and he says, “Come forward.” There is a lot Jesus could have been seeing in this seen: power, systems, structures, rules and regulations… But he sees a human, possibly often overlooked, and beckons him to him. Beloved, Jesus offers a hand of grace to us today. May we do the same to all whom we encounter, regardless of the consequences.

Mark 2:23-28 |Sabbath. Stop.

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:9-10). It was a command of the Lord to rest and not do any work on the 7th day. It was designed to keep people centered in God, on God’s love, and in so doing to refresh their souls. But as with anything truly good, we managed to program and systemize it in such a way that the day of rest actually become a burden.

Here Jesus reminds us that “sabbath” (a Hebrew word that can be literally translated as “stop” or “cease”) is not a religious command as much as a spiritual necessity. That’s why it was commanded! It was commanded as the Israelites had come out of generations of slavery. They couldn’t conceive of a day of rest. So God commanded it, because God knows that sometimes we just need to stop. It is designed to refresh us, not burden us. So if it’s a burden… it’s not sabbath. Sabbath (that is, rest from our daily routine) is vital to our spiritual, physical and emotional health.

So, for today’s episode in the Gospel of Mark, I’ve chosen to go back to something I wrote years ago called “Time”:

We’ve all heard it said that time is money. Well if this is so, then why is that we when we’re doing nothing we say we’re wasting time? If I’m doing nothing with money, if I’m not using it, we would say I’m saving it. So why isn’t it that way with time? When we’re doing nothing with our time we say we’re wasting it. Nooooo. That’s not right. That’s saving time. That’s taking time by the horns and saying “you’re mine”.

Have you ever thought about how much time you waste by doing? No one has an excess of time, you know. It’s not like some people are given more than others. We’re all given 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes in an hour. No one can change that. So how can we say that some have more time? It’s your time, you know. Just like a financial adviser would tell you that you need to get control of your finances so that they don’t control you, I say get control of your time so that it doesn’t get control of you.

Stop spending it. Save some. Put some in the bank and do nothing with it. It’s okay, you can do it. God even commanded it. Seriously, check it out. So take some time and do nothing with it. If some one says, “hey, what are you doing?”, you can say “nothing”.1616364974_2ab35d9c54

“Nothing, really? Well than come on over and help me do….”

“No, no, I’m sorry. You don’t understand. I’m doing nothing. That’s what I’m doing.”

“So you’re just wasting time?”

“Nope. Saving it.”

So save some time today. Do nothing. Quit spending more than you have, because one day hard times will hit. The Time Market will crash and you’ll wish you had some saved up.

An Open Letter to Bishop Bruce Ough

Dear Bishop Ough,

If there is one thing I’ve learned since stepping into leading a local church, it’s that there is a lot about any leadership position that one does not know until they have occupied that seat. With that in mind, I wan to name that I have not occupied the seat in which you sit, and therefore there is a lot I don’t know. I also want to recognize the work you’ve done in leading this conference and the denomination through some of our denomination’s most tumultuous years. I can’t imagine the toll it’s taken on you emotionally, spiritually, and physically. 

But with that said, you are in a position now to take a stand that I thought you would take. Perhaps I have been misunderstood but I had the understanding that any complaints brought against a clergy person in the Minnesota Annual Conference regarding the ministry of and with with LGBTQ+ persons would be dismissed. Furthermore, I had the understanding that the spirit of the aspirational vision passed at our 2019 Annual Conference would call you to do so, as would the abeyance of charges outlined in the Protocol plan announced last week.

I am disappointed to hear that a complaint filed against Rev. Jia Starr Brown has not been dismissed in favor of working toward a “just resolution”. The minute the complaint was filed, justice was compromised and harm was done. And with every second that the complaint remains, justice continues to be compromised and the harm increases. 

I am but just one clergy person in our conference, but my conscience forbids me from being silent. I therefore I call upon you to dismiss the complaint against Rev. Jia Starr Brown and to condemn the complaint publicly, and do the necessary work to heal the harm that has been done.

Like I said, perhaps I was misunderstood, but I was under the impression that this is what you would do. The 85% margin by which our vision was passed says that 85% of the conference would be with you in doing so and even expects you to do so. We are waiting for you to step into courageous and prophetic leadership here to stop the harm and to begin repairing it. 

We are at a point where I can no longer defend this denomination and with this, now this conference. I am ashamed to be a United Methodist, and our witness to the communities to which we are called continues to be harmed by the denomination’s structures continually bowing down to harmful ideologies and doctrine. Before we are called to heal a broken world, we need to do the work of healing the harm done in our own system. Do the right thing, Bishop, and take the stand for justice. 

May the grace, peace, and love of Christ abide in and around you. May the Spirit of God guide you. And may the generative nature of our Creator enliven you.

Rev. Paul Baudhuin  (He/Him/His) // Pastor, Aldersgate Church // St. Louis Park, MN



Mark 2:18-22 | Bursting Wineskins

rodrigo-abreu-Cj4CWKQllOM-unsplashThis verse is one that has intrigued me for over a decade. I still don’t get quite get it. I think it’s apparent that Jesus is saying that change happens and that we need to continue to evolve as a community of people in context with what is happening in the world around us, and that often means saying goodbye to customs, traditions, and rituals that we love but which may have outlived their usefulness. I also think Jesus is getting at something that is easy for us to miss and if we do, can be detrimental to our effectiveness in opening up the love and grace of Christ to new people: That is that many of our customs are not an end, but means to an end. This passage comes in the context of a question to Jesus about why his disciples don’t fast. And he essentially says, “because right now is not a time for fasting” (my paraphrase).

There is merit to digging into all that he meant by this in terms of the “bridegroom metaphor” that follows, but I think there is a more generalized point to which we constantly need to be paying close attention. By confessing that “no, my disciples don’t fast” Jesus is saying that fasting, while good and right, is not essential. Fasting was merely a means of connecting to the Spirit of God, but the people had gotten so used to doing it that they started to believe that it was essential- that it was a command of God- that one was not a good Jew if they didn’t fast. I think part of what Jesus is saying here is that we need to hold all of our customs loosely. They are merely means to an end, not an end themselves. They are vehicles by which we connect to God. Everything we do in worship, in our devotional lives, and in our small group communities are means to a greater end, and any of them are subject to one day outliving their usefulness. Because God is always up to new things, and sometimes those new things require a whole different vehicle.

So when Jesus says, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?” (Mark 2:19), he is saying, among other things, “fasting is not essential at all times and in all places.” As our culture shifts and changes at a rate like the world has never seen before, we as followers of Christ must hold the rituals and customs we love loosely while paying close attention to what God is doing, how God is moving, and how God is connecting with people. What are we doing to step in the flow of God’s activity in the world today? After all, the heavens have “torn open”. So too then do the wine skins that hold our tradition.

I believe God is doing something new with the Christendom today. I believe God has new wine, and we know it will burst our wineskins, so we’re holding back. It’s scary to let go. It’s scary to enter into uncharted waters. But I believe that’s what the Christian Church must do. Those new waters can be scary, but I believe that when we step into them, and courageously pick up our feet and let the current of God’s work carry us away, we will find that though they may be scary, and though we have to let go of much of what we’ve loved, those waters are good and right, and in them is liberation and salvation.

Mark 2:13-17 |No Need of a Physician

This passage is a very simple but powerful story of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. Wiley-Coyote-HelpJesus is once again on his way to who-knows-where and he sees Levi sitting at his tax booth. Levi is a tax collector. That means he is hired out by Rome to collect taxes and then take a little more for himself from those from whom he’s collecting. Tax collectors were among the most despised people in the region. They were seen as traitors since they were working for the oppressor (Rome), and they also used that power to exploit people. And they were seen as religiously unclean as well. These were not people with whom the faithful associated . But Jesus not only associates with them, he calls them. Jesus says, “come follow me”, and Levi does.

When the Pharisees (part of the religious elite) ask “why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners”, Jesus interjects with a very simple, but sneaky response. He says, “those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners”. On the surface this is a nice statement that we all like, because it means that there’s hope for us who feel we don’t measure up. And this is an important part of the Gospel, but there’s more to this statement than that. When I look at the life of Christ, I see a man initiating a Kingdom of radical inclusion. We know this about Jesus, right? He is constantly going out to the margins of society and bringing in those who are out, and including those who are excluded. The image we often get is a “come one, come all” kind of a call. And that is the kingdom Jesus is initiating. But here we see the caveat to this radical inclusion: If you think you don’t need a “physician”, then this is not the place for you. Furthermore, if thinking you have it all figured out means that you will not associate with those of us who don’t, then this really isn’t the place for you. Jesus is a radically inclusive Messiah, but he seems to have no tolerance for those who set themselves apart as the worthy ones.

But let’s also pause here for a moment: In my past I’ve been really harsh on the Pharisees, viewing them in one dimensional ways, almost as straw men to hold up my views. I have recently come to realize the antisemitism that can crop out of this view. Jesus is certainly in an ongoing feud with the them, but let’s remember that the Pharisees are Torah observant Jews, seeking to live out the Torah as they understand it and as it is has been passed down to them. Their question here is fair one. That said, Jesus’ work necessarily will confound those who are hung up on the letter of the law at the expense of the Spirit of law. So this feud is real, but let’s be careful about the way we characterize the Pharisees.

That said, The irony of what’s happening here is that Jesus’ kingdom is a wide open kingdom for all people, but the one thing that will exclude you from it is thinking you don’t need it. The paradox of God’s kingdom is that the ones who “get it” are the ones who freely confess that they don’t have it figured out; and the ones who don’t “get it” are the ones who think they do have it all figured out. You see the problematic cycle this leads us to. The overarching point I think Jesus is making here is saying to those who think they don’t need a physician or are uncomfortable with others in the physicians office, “ok. then don’t come.”

Even a physician needs another physician from time to time. The point here may be less about who needs a “physician” and more about recognizing that we all do, so let’s not exclude anyone from seeing the physician. In other words, let’s open up the healing hand of God to all humans. Even the tax collectors.

Maybe the best question out of this for us today is, “Who are your tax collectors? Who are the ones you think don’t belong? The ones that make your flesh crawl? The ones who you think are unworthy?” Honestly reflect on that. And then maybe reconsider.