Sitting with Sinners

Scripture Focus: Psalm 26.4-5
4 I do not sit with the deceitful,
     nor do I associate with hypocrites.
 5 I abhor the assembly of evildoers
     and refuse to sit with the wicked.

Reflection: Sitting with Sinners
By Erin Newton

When the Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2.16)

The radical action by Jesus was his casual interaction and friendly relationship with those deemed “bad.” He sat among the deceitful and the hypocrites.

Psalm 26 portrays the actions of an innocent person through a series of proclamations:

  I have led a blameless life.
            I have trusted in the Lord.
            I have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.
            I wash my hands in innocence.

The positive, righteous actions are countered by the ways the psalmist did not act. In the context of this psalm, these negative statements support the claim of righteousness. They reflect how the psalmist heeded the warning in Psalm 1—a crescendo against walking with the wicked, standing with sinners, and finally sitting with mockers.

Have you ever been somewhere and thought about how you might make a quick getaway? Someone calls your name in a coffee shop, and you begrudgingly turn to see who it is. Trapped! You remind yourself, “Don’t sit down. Just stand, and it’ll be easier to slip away.” Sitting with someone makes getting away harder.

The idea of sitting with someone in the ancient world was an expression of close association. It describes familiarity, comfortability, and acceptance of one’s company. The psalmist was trying to delineate a difference from those who did not love God. It is a plea against being viewed as “guilty by association.”

Jesus sat and ate with sinners. He touched lepers and bleeding women. He was comfortable associating with hypocrites. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because of his friendship with the tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11.19). Despite the judgmental attitudes of those who did not approve of his behavior, Jesus knew his presence among them was needed. Jesus was not afraid to be misunderstood by a bystander who spent more time judging him than listening to what he had to say.

With the starkly different approaches—avoidance or association—the psalmist and Jesus share a common trait. Both trust in God, lead blameless lives (one much less perfect than the other), rely on God’s faithfulness, and find joy in the presence of God.

The Christian life means we follow the narrow path of obedience, but we must also follow the way of love. It is possible to do both. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my hiding place…you surround me with shouts of deliverance. — Psalm 32.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 8 (Listen 10:23)
Psalms 26-27 (Listen 2:39)

Read more about The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel
We, the undeserving, motley, scandalous louts that we are, find ourselves with our feet under Christ’s table. Christ invites all to the banquet.

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Self-Serving Rhetoric

Scripture Focus: Job 18.16-21
16 His roots dry up below 
and his branches wither above. 
17 The memory of him perishes from the earth; 
he has no name in the land. 
18 He is driven from light into the realm of darkness 
and is banished from the world. 
19 He has no offspring or descendants among his people, 
no survivor where once he lived. 
20 People of the west are appalled at his fate; 
those of the east are seized with horror. 
21 Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; 
such is the place of one who does not know God.”

Psalm 26.1
1 Vindicate me, Lord, 
for I have led a blameless life; 
I have trusted in the Lord 
and have not faltered. 

Reflection: Self-Serving Rhetoric
By John Tillman

Job’s friends grew harsher with him as the conversation continued. Contentious debate spiraled into more personal attacks.

Bildad answers, spouting truisms and generalities about things that will befall wicked people. However, he goes beyond just reciting commonly held beliefs. He personalizes them, using details similar to Job’s recent experiences. 

“He is torn from the security of his tent and marched off to the king of terrors…”
“It eats away parts of his skin; death’s firstborn devours his limbs…”
“Sulphur is scattered over his dwelling…”
“Fire resides in his tent…”
“He has no offspring…”
“His roots dry up below and his branches wither above…”

Bildad would not have known this, but Job’s spiritual tent of protection had been removed and he had been given over to Satan, a king of terrors. The other details he did know and he turned them against his friend. Job’s “roots,” the sources of his wealth, and his “branches,” his children and extended family, were dried up and withered. His security had been torn away by foreign kings. His children had been crushed in a collapsing building. His skin was being eaten away by sores and illness.

I am convinced that the hostility of Job’s friends and their judgmentalism came from fear and insecurity. The friends are the appalled “people of the west” and “the east.” They were appalled that similar things might happen to them. Proving that Job’s sin brought this on himself was essential to their worldview. Bildad’s images pointed an accusing finger at Job and, by contrast, implied that he and the others were righteous.

Fire fell on Job’s life. Rather than comfort him, his friends blew on the embers to warm themselves.

Blaming others’ choices for their problems gives us false peace in two flavors. We can believe that bad things can’t happen if we are “good.” We can excuse ourselves from helping the suffering because we think their suffering is justice for their wrongs or correction for their foolishness.

In our lives, we can be quick to say, “consequences of your actions” when bad things happen to others and cry “persecution” when bad things happen to us.

Don’t fall victim to the same self-insulating, self-serving, victim-blaming rhetoric as Bildad and the other friends. No matter why fire falls on others’ lives, may we be found tending to the burns rather than stirring up the embers.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — Psalm 96.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 18 (Listen – 1:54)
Psalm 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)

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Read more about When Help Doesn’t Help
We all reap what we sow, don’t we? Unfortunately, this is a common view of pain and suffering, even in the Church today.

The Path of the Betrayer

Psalm 27.12
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
   for false witnesses rise up against me,
   spouting malicious accusations.

From John:
I prepare and post these devotionals approximately 36 hours before they go out, so as I finished writing this post and prepared it for posting, Notre Dame was still smoldering.

Today’s psalm gives us balm for this wound as well:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
   this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
   all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
   and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
   he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
   and set me high upon a rock. — Psalm 27.4-5

Our joint suffering with and for one another is part of being made one in Christ. May our prayers continue to rise for our brothers and sisters observing Holy Week in the midst of such tragedy.

Reflection: The Path of the Betrayer
By John Tillman

Wednesday is the day that it is most likely that Judas sought out the religious leaders to betray Jesus. It is amazing that it took this long.

John tells us that Jesus knew early on who the betrayer was and that, early in the week, the idea was already placed in Judas’s heart, by Satan. His motivation could have been simple revenge for being corrected publicly about Mary’s offering. His motivation could have been merely financial. (He was already stealing from Christ’s ministry fund.) But it is surely more complicated than any one, simple reason.

By Wednesday it was evident that the nationalistic dreams of the disciples and the crowds who waved palm branches (a symbol of the Maccabean revolt) were not shared by Jesus. He didn’t attack the Romans. He met with Greeks. He even failed to endorse a religious exemption for paying taxes to an idolatrous government.

For our reflection, it is valuable to remember that all the disciples felt let down by Jesus in the political realm. Peter rebuked Christ for predicting his death and fought to prevent his arrest. Surely Judas and others felt the same. (Judas seemed shocked to remorse when Jesus was convicted.) Even up to the moment of Christ’s ascension to Heaven, the disciples asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?

Like the disciples, our longing for political salvation is far, far greater than our longing for spiritual salvation. This is because we don’t want to be made better people. We prefer others be forced to subject themselves to our weaknesses and sins—to accept us the way we are.

We are setting ourselves up for disillusionment if we mistakenly believe that Christ’s mission is to set us up in power, to bring us earthly authority, or to establish any kingdom other than a heavenly one.

By the end of the week, Judas will be dead and Jesus will step fully into the role John the Baptist first identified him as: The Lamb of God. He is the rejected one, the one who washed his betrayers’ feet, the one who submitted to death, the one who forgave his executioners. If we want to rise with him on Sunday, we must be prepared to die with him on Friday.

Jesus and Judas both offer us a path to follow.

What do we long for more than we long for Christ? Not letting go of it is choosing the path of Judas.

Prayer: A Reading
…Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, approached the chief priests with an offer to hand Jesus over to them. They were delighted to hear it, and promised to give him money; and he began to look for a way of betraying him when the opportunity should occur. — Mark 14.10-11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 21 (Listen – 3:08) 
Psalm 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)

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Jesus Christ Superstar shows Jesus’ last week of ministry as the looming failure that Judas must have perceived it to be.

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Imagine his face looking at Judas…The look you imagine on Christ’s face in these moments says a lot about what you believe about who Jesus is and what his character is like.