19 June 2013

Eating with Prostitutes

Jesus once ate with prostitutes, and so in reaching out to my neighbourhood, it also seems appropriate that I would eat with prostitutes. There are enough organisations reaching out to the women here, and I have been invited to join the women's dinner held by the Salvation Army. Yet, I have chosen not to go, not because I would find it difficult to eat with prostitutes, but simply because I find it difficult to relate to others in a situation where it's so obvious that I'm the one giving help and they are the ones needing it. I tend to picture Jesus' eating with prostitutes to be his inviting them to join his table at home, a guest as welcome as any other.

But what if that really would happen? What if a prostitute really joined us for dinner? A guest comes to the table whose background we do not know - something that happens often enough at the dinner table in the community. And as there is time before the food is ready and numerous new people, everyone is invited to introduce themselves. And she says she is a prostitute, in bad English, but clear enough that at least a few people understand. And what happens then? Do you stop the introductions and tell her how welcome she is? Do you stare her to see if she's real (after all, she looks like everybody else)? Do you ask about her work in an attempt to relate to her as much as you can? Do you ignore her and continue with your own conversations, unsure what to say and hoping that her presence won't make everybody uncomfortable? Do you hope that your laughter and comraderie shows a picture of people who have become a family even though we're from so many different places? And in so doing, hope that the Holy Spirit might work in them a desire to be more part of God's own family?

It is absurd to think that a woman working in prostitution would come as a guest to dinner - and yet God has done stranger things. After all, women leaving prostitution have come to live with us for awhile, struggling to put their lives together just like so many others who have joined the community for awhile. And strangely enough their presence at the dinner table has always been normal: whatever their background, they are welcome to be part of this crazy family for as long as they want to be. That is, after all, the loving welcome that I expect Jesus extended when he invited prostitutes and tax-collectors to join him, and I am deeply thankful that I have found a way to follow his example.

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