the Margins of the Kingdom
Unclean food and an unclean spirit. Both of these passages seem distant at the first reading to me. And I'll be honest, my context is screaming loudly on the sidelines as I read both passages. We're beginning a ministry for people with special needs. People who are often treated as though they are unclean. Oh sure, we don't use that word. We use words like disruptive, difficult, dangerous. And so I can't help but imagine Jesus in the synagogue when, let's say a person with a developmental disability who is prone to speaking out of turn says to Jesus, "What have you to do with us? I know who you are - but what have you to do with us?" Then Jesus turns to this person and uses the word unclean for that which is tormenting him or her.
The question seems reasonable - what had Jesus to do with people suffer with chronic illnesses, or people who live with mental illnesses? What had Jesus to do with so many things we now understand but in the time when these scriptures were penned were lumped into the category of "unclean?" It's this word that causes me to stumble not the actions of Jesus.
Whether it be people with leprosy or people with physical disabilities or people who were blind, Jesus sought to share the kingdom primarily with those on the margins of society. And so when Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him or her, I wonder what happened to this person. What of their condition was unclean - what changed - the physical, the emotional or the spiritual? Was the developmental disability removed? What was the future like for this person? And how did the community adjust in order to assist the change that happened?
Isn't that the question for this community in Corinth? One's freedoms have gotten in the way of showing love to another. The community is needing to adjust in order to create comfort for another. One's knowledge of the grace of God in regards to idols has created a stumbling block for another who does not have the same understanding of the grace of God. And so Paul is asking - would you consider not eating at the restaurant down the street that serves meat sacrificed to idols because your brother or sister doesn't feel comfortable doing that at this time? A colleague of mine recently put the question this way, "Are you willing to be 25% uncomfortable in order to make another person comfortable?" That's what this is really about. Am I able to adjust what I want to do or what I find reasonable and admissible in order to accommodate another in the kingdom of God?
I can hear Paul's community and even our contemporary context arguing, "If I'm willing to be 25% uncomfortable in order for "them" to feel comfortable why can't "they" be 25% uncomfortable in order to make me feel comfortable too?" The margins of the kingdom are always going to be uncomfortable, aren't they?
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