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No Fear

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:36-38, NRSV)

“Jesus was killed because of the way he ate.”

—Conrad Gempf in Mealtime Habits of the Messiah

My parents taught me from a young age to carefully choose my friends because, according to them, “We become the people we hang out with.” That philosophy of friend-making made sense to me until I got serious as a teenager about studying the life of Jesus. I observed Jesus socializing with people of questionable character in the gospels and running into trouble with the religious authorities for these associations. I still believe my parents were right about the importance of choosing the right friends to develop our character. However, I think we also need to grapple with Jesus’ openness to people rejected and marginalized by the First Century religious authorities. Apart from his willingness to engage the outcasts, they might not have had a chance to learn of God’s love and grace.

A Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner when an “unwanted guest” also showed up. The unexpected guest was a woman described as a “sinner,” and the Greek originally refers to her as a “preeminent sinner” or as “one devoted to sin.” Most of us are conditioned to assume her sin was sexual or otherwise the text would have been specific; however, we don’t know the exact nature of her sin. We also don’t know if the Middle Eastern cultural requirement for radical hospitality prevented the Pharisee from dismissing her. Still, she remained at least long enough to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoint them with oil. His host was incensed that Jesus didn’t send her away because of her sinful status. Instead, Jesus offered appreciation for her loving attention.

Last week’s message focused on making time to get to know our neighbors. This week, I’m focusing on another barrier to getting to know our neighbors—fear. When we only observe our neighbors from a distance, we may make assumptions about whether they are the kind of people with whom we’re comfortable associating. The longer we make assumptions, the more our lack of knowledge may become fear. We fear most what we do not know or understand. Although I’m sure some people are not good neighbor material, I’m also sure most of those who live close to us would make great neighbors. We’ve just got to get to know one another to discover the possibility.

Let’s choose our friends wisely, but let’s also do everything we can to make our neighbors good friends. Reach out and get to know them. Who knows, they may be afraid of you!!!

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