Trendy. Hip. Ethnic. Diverse.
In a first century world, those words don’t really seem to fit. But, in first-century Ephesus, they aptly describe the city. Full or art and colliding cultures, there was a rich and forward-thinking vibe to the city. But under the glitz and the glam, there was a whole different set of adjectives at play.
Shady. Scandalous. Dirty.
Ephesus was a haven for the criminally minded. It’s rumored that no one could be taken in for a crime if they were within earshot of one of the city’s main attractions; the “holy” temple of Diana. And speaking of Diana, she was a goddess of fertility. The prostitution trade in Ephesus was booming.
Vegas would look like a saint next to Ephesus.
In the midst of this scene, the way of Jesus was beginning to flesh out. There was this new undercurrent of redemption and grace that was building under the surface; drawing a lot of different and weird people into a kind of family with the already religiously established.
Gentiles mixing with Jews.
There was a bit of race pride at play here. The Jews were the original people of God. They were the entitled ones to the kingdom, and the keepers of the gate. They prided themselves in their heritage, rituals, and holiness. And, you didn’t get in if you weren’t one of them; or, at least, if you were a dude and didn’t have surgery.
Yet, that crazy apostle Paul kept inviting the Gentiles in. He kept preaching that the Gentiles were a part of the story of God. They weren’t a subplot or a chapter in the story; they weren’t relegated to the sidelines, reserved for trash-time. Paul keep insisting that they were as entitled to the kingdom and grace as the Jews were.
That was awkward and uncomfortable.
That doesn’t make much sense to us; that sort of national pride attached to religion. In our developed world, we don’t really struggle to understand that Asians, Mexicans, Hondurans, Australians, Africans, Brits, and even Canadians are as loved by God as Americans. But, we have our own control issues.
We play the role of gatekeeper too often. Here’s what we struggle to accept:
- The recovering alcoholic sitting at the end of the bar
- The guy who cheated on his wife and tossed his family aside
- The junkie trying to find a way to get past the needle
- The skinny girl who rushes to the bathroom right after dinner
- That lazy, unemployed couple with iPhones hanging out on the porch waiting for their welfare check
- That douche at work that gets on your last nerve
- That girl that broke your heart so effortlessly
- That gay couple across the street
- That punk kid that keeps getting in your way
- That guy on the corner, smelling like booze and holding a sign
- That stuffy preacher with a smug look, wide tie, and furrowed brow
- That “friend” who went after your ex
- That politician with his slick promises and picture perfect family
These people are all apart of God’s scandalous story; all are cherished, honored, and fought for in His sight. So the truth is, if you don’t love on people like this…you aren’t really following Jesus. I think that’s why Jesus said that following Him would be difficult; not because we have some difficult moral standard to maintain, not because we want to sleep in on Sunday mornings; but because loving people like this is hard, messy, and goes against every fiber of our being.
Let’s be reckless today. Let’s love somebody that we’d rather hit below the belt.