Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Appearances Can Be Deceiving June 4, 2022

I came across the following social media meme, you know, those pithy comments or reflections strewn about the intellectual and morbidly average wasteland we call “social media,” which is, we should note, neither “social” nor “media.”

It’s no more “social” than a pole on a street corner in a big city plastered with a ton of bills, posters, business cards, political slogans, or flyers for piano lessons is, “social.” It’s hardly “media” for the same reason. It’s an electronic public platform that collapses time and space; that’s all it is. But I digress. Here are the words (as best I can remember) noted in the meme:

Jesus didn’t eat with sinners and tax collectors because he wanted to appear inclusive, tolerant, and accepting. He ate with them to call them to a changed and fruitful life, to die to self and live for him. His call is transformation of life not affirmation of identity.”Social Media Meme (I encountered it on Facebook)

Let’s just break this down a bit.

Jesus didn’t eat with sinners and tax collectors because he wanted to appear inclusive, tolerant, and accepting…”

Notice the projection here and clear revealing of what the writer thinks about other people’s motivations. When the creator of this meme sees a social-justice-type Christian (you know, those pesky “woke” progressives) advocating for or doing the very things Jesus did, they assume it’s all for appearance. It’s an act. It’s a performance for others. What an amazing ability the creator has to peer into the hearts and minds of other people.

A meme like this one probably says more about the creator than the person they attribute such motives to. Is this why the writer/speaker does ministry? For appearance? Do they assume that everyone else must be like them?

And why do they assume it’s for appearance? Are they agreeing that Jesus was indeed “inclusive, tolerant, and accepting” but the “woke” people doing it now only do it for appearance? Or, are they saying that Jesus was none of those things and only spent time with “sinners” due to ulterior motives? Does either view reflect very well upon the person who believes such? Or their view of Jesus?

Next: “…He ate with them to call them to a changed and fruitful life, to die to self and live for him.”

Well, in most of the passages of the gospels where we read about Jesus eating and spending time with “sinners” and tax collectors, we aren’t told what he called them to do. Perhaps the writer was thinking of what Jesus was calling his disciples to do. When Jesus does give counsel, he is asked for it:

Luke 3:12-14: “Some tax collectors came to be baptized. They asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He told them, ‘Don’t collect more money than you are ordered to collect.’”

And notice, this is only when they came to be baptized—it tells us nothing about what Jesus said to those who weren’t ready for change. Second, he speaks more to their actions than he does their spiritual motivations or future goals.

Is it possible that Jesus had no ulterior motive when spending time with “sinners,” but simply wanted to love them and felt compassion and empathy toward those he saw cast out from the religious world—cast out by the very people who should have been doing what Jesus was doing?

What if the point, if we feel we need one, was to show the religious leaders of his day that it was possible to simply be with people with no ulterior motive or hidden agenda other than to love them, whether they changed or not?

What if, paradoxically, this sort of attitude and action toward someone is what actually creates the space for them to change?

Finally: “…His call is transformation of life not affirmation of identity.”

Why does the writer of this meme think that if we don’t call for “sinners” to change such is only an affirmation of their identity or a complicity in their sin (if it’s even truly a sin)? Has the writer ever considered the idea that sometimes we just need to sit, converse, and eat with people in a loving and listening posture for a long, long, time before we even get to a place where we can talk about change?

When social justice Christians (which is just to say, just Christians) spend time with “sinners,” I don’t believe it’s about appearances or affirmations. It’s more about doing what Jesus did, which was including those who had been pushed out, condemn, and shunned by the religious leaders/people of his day. Those leaders/people didn’t like it when they saw Jesus doing it then, and many of the same type of people don’t like it when they see the same being done today. That’s all this meme reveals.

This meme brings up “sinners” and “tax collectors” to make a point about progressive (“woke”) Christians. However, the point of those gospel passages about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors isn’t primarily about changing those folks (even if that ended up being a byproduct of the encounter).

The point of those passages is to note the hypocrisy and failure to love on the part of the religious leaders, who were calling Jesus out for his doing the very work they should have been doing. The call for transformation is to them. The writer of this meme has it completely backwards.

The only thing this meme tells us about “woke” people is that they seem to go around doing what Jesus did. Why does that bother the meme’s writer/speaker/creator? Rather than impugn the motives of others, the writer may want to look inward and reflect upon their own motives and understanding of Jesus. They sound sort of like the religious person in this story: Luke 18:9-14

In my view, the meme is a deflection because whether it was Jesus back then or “woke” Christians today, hey, meme creator, assuming you’re a Christian, they’re just doing your job. If you are offended by their efforts or methods or feel the need to question their motives, such says a lot more about you than it does them.

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