Of the many qualities I love about Jesus, chief among them was his willingness to flout social rules and hang out with the kinds of people that “polite society” of his day wanted nothing to do with. Jesus himself was in all likelihood a solid member of the Jewish middle class, as exemplified by the earthy nature of the hard but honest work that he and his family and friends and associates did: carpentry, shepherding, fishing. Some scholars have speculated that Jesus was himself a Pharisee, since much of his most vitriolic criticism was leveled at the Pharisees and, after all, don’t we criticize what we know and even love the best? If so, that would make Jesus as religiously respectable as we was socioeconomically. But Jesus wasn’t about respect. He really couldn’t give a fig about what the neighbors thought, apparently. After all, he was known to associate with Samaritans, tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners.
Let’s try to recast this in language that the white, right, Christian “polite society” of our time might better understand. Who are the Samaritans of our time? Perhaps they are the tattoo-and-piercings crowd, the artists, the bohemians, the transvestites, the pagans and polyamorists. For that matter, in many corners of polite-dom, gays and lesbians are still considered outsiders. Oh, and let’s not forget how so many Christians actively or passively marginalize Muslims, particularly those from the Persian Gulf area. Now, who are the tax collectors of our time? That’s an easy one: the tax-and-spend Democrats, of course. Those liberals, those ACLU types, those political busybodies who want to banish God from the courtroom and the classroom. Finally, who are the prostitutes and the sinners? Well, I think we can all agree that prostitutes enjoy just about the same level of social respectability that they did two thousand years ago (!), so they would still be high on Jesus’ list of friends. But I think in today’s world we can expand that category to include all sorts of sexworkers, from the hookers on the street to the high-priced escorts, as well as pornographers, exotic dancers, sensual massage providers.
So these people would be the kinds of folks that crazy Jesus would hang out with today, and not so he could reform them or rehabilitate them, but rather to lovingly share God’s love with them. And then let that love do what it’s going to do. And I think we might also note that just as Jesus spoke almost no words of criticism or condemnation to the social outsiders of his day but was venomous when attacking the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, we could expect a similar pattern from him were he to walk among us now. But I will leave it to my readers’ discerning imagination to ponder just what that would look like.