Advent Friendship Reflection, Day 9

Just this morning, in a Facebook astronomy group I joined recently, I witnessed a huge flair up over political issues. What had been a nice place for folks to post their pictures, and share tips and tricks about the hobby had suddenly become a minefield of accusations, offenses, and some very bullying and deeply offensive posts and memes. I left the group. I imagine, if you have been on social media for any amount of time, you have seen lots of similar things. When Jesus gets accused of being a glutton and drunkard, and a friend to tax collectors and sinners, it is because some have become uncomfortable with his actions. Biblical scholars who use Sociology as a lens to understand the Palestinian Jesus Movement describe Jesus and his group emerging in a "high group, high grid" culture. In other words, most folks in 1st Century Palestine shared the same thoughts and ideas about religion, proper behavior, and worldview. That's "high group." We might say there was lots of "groupthink," to use an Orwellian term. In addition, the culture was very "high grid," lots of stratification and social differentiation, huge differences between the "somebodies" with all the titles, wealth, honor, and power and the "nobodies" who had none of these things.

Apparently Jesus' boundary crossing behavior, his association with the "nobodies," those outside the grid altogether, made others who were part of the "in" group deeply uncomfortable. I guess trolls have been around for a long time. And just like the social media trolls of today resort to name calling and insults, so also Jesus was being trolled by folks who were deeply uncomfortable with his practice of giving comfort to people who were being sexually trafficked, healing lepers and other untouchables, providing comfort to people with disabilities, feeding the hungry, and spending time with others who somehow had violated the system of group think. Not only that, in a culture of fairly low mobility, in which your social status was set even before birth, and in which family, traditions, and trades were all rigidly enforced, Jesus left his own home village and family--and encouraged others to join him in leaving their families and friends, home villages, and expected occupations and follow him on his apocalyptic mission of proclaiming the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God.

Have you ever been trolled or judged for choosing to cross boundaries and hang out with someone who was deemed not acceptable by a greater majority? Have you ever been one of those persons who was bullied, judged, or excluded because you didn't fit into the "acceptable" social norms?  Have you ever witnessed bullying by a group with which you associated, but remained silent out of fear or self-preservation? Maybe for you it is good news that Jesus was judged too for hanging out with the untouchables. I wonder, those of you among my friends who still consider Jesus OK, whether we're still willing to join Jesus in being condemned for crossing boundaries, and hanging out with the ones who have been trampled on by the status quo.

Each day of advent, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, I plan to post a few thoughts on an aspect of friendship I learned while writing my book, Virtuous Friendship: The New Testament, Greco-Roman Friendship Language, and Contemporary Community, available on Amazon through this link. This will be a chance for me to share with you all a little bit from what I learned, while giving you, hopefully, a chance to take a deep breath during this busy season and do some reflection. Also, you won't have to secure another resource for Advent. I realize that you are all at many different places with regard to faith and belief, so use these reflections however you see fit. If you'd be interested in having me come speak at your church, lead a Bible Study, or even just Zoom or Skype in for a Q&A with a Sunday School class or other small group, let me know:


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