All the homosexuals and the homeless and the drug dealers and sex workers and meth addicts and convicted child pornographers came to Jesus to listen to him. And the conservative evangelicals and the Bible scholars denounced him, “He is opening the door of the church to the wicked.”
But Jesus told them this story, “Look, if you had a hundred cars and one of them was stolen, wouldn’t you forget about all the other ninety nine and just focus on the one until it was found? You’d call the police, call your neighbors and be generally freaked out—not about the ninety nine, but for the one that was lost. Then, when it is found, you would drive it home proudly and happily. And you’d call your neighbors and the police and say, ‘Praise God! My stolen car was found!” It is this very joy that God has when a single sinner repents and comes back to God, away from his sins. He loves that more than ninety nine church-goers who only ever say the right things.
“Suppose there was a woman with ten coins, worth a thousand dollars each and one of them came up missing. Wouldn’t she take out her flashlight and turn all the furniture upside down until it was found? Then, once it’s found then she calls up her neighbors and say, ‘Yeah, I had lost this expensive coin, but praise God, now I’ve found it.’ Even so does God rejoice over one sinner who turns back to God away from his sin.”
Okay, so we know that Jesus hung out with tax collectors, but do we have to go so far as to say he hung out with drugies and child pornographers? Oh, yes, these are exactly the kind of folks Jesus hung out with. He welcomed those whom the Standard Religious Society (SRS, or, if you please, the church) didn’t want to have anything to do with. These were the ones that the SRS called “sinners”, but many of them really weren’t, or at least no more than anyone else. The tax collectors were folks who worked for the Romans to collect tolls for their roads. While some tax collectors DID cheat the Romans and others (like Zaccheus in Luke 19), but these toll collectors did no such thing. They didn’t make much, but they didn’t collect enough to cheat the Romans. So they had a job, just a job. But because they worked for the Romans they were automatically rejected by the SRS (i.e. the church).
So Jesus, were he here today, he would hang out with those who were “unacceptable” in the church’s eyes today. He would hang out with the homeless who are often excluded from the church simply because they don’t have good enough hygiene. He would hang out with those who belonged to cult groups like Samaritans (or like Mormons today) and explain to them the heart of God’s truth. He would hang out with the homosexuals and drunks who are unsure of their reception, even if they repent. He would hang out with the druggies and tell them about the gospel, welcoming them, eating with them, hoping to bring them—or to keep them—in God.
Who are the Riff-Raff?
Jesus targeted three groups that were set outside of the church. He welcomed the ones who were just not good enough to be in a “proper” church—Samaritans, the lame, the blind, women, the Gentiles. All of these groups were people who could be in right standing with God, but they were set out of the Temple for one reason or another. The church, like the Temple of old, has a pretty strict idea of who belongs to it. No, they don’t set up rules for it, but they set boundaries through their subtle but negative reactions to those who are poor, of different beliefs, or of a different culture. The church today is as cultural as it is spiritual—sometimes it is more culture than Spirit. And those who do not belong to the culture is outcaste.
Another group that Jesus targeted is the sinner. Some of these are professional sinners, such as prostitutes and tax collectors—those whose very profession excluded them from good graces in God’s community. Some are sinners by what they did—adultery, theft, rebellion—and they are painted as such for the rest of their life for one sin. These are like those who are in jail or prison for crimes done. While some churches might accept them, they certainly don’t allow them near their children. Again, the welcome is only partial
The other group Jesus specifically targeted is the judged. These are people who were judged by God or by people and they have the mark of judgment against them. In Jesus’ day they are the demon possessed or the lepers. Today, they may be sufferers of AIDS or those going through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol or some other addiction. They may be people who have chronic mental illnesses. At first they might be welcome into today’s church, but then they would be rejected because they are “too difficult” or “cause too many disruptions.”
Should the Church Welcome the Riff Raff?
Absolutely. If it was good enough for Jesus, then it is good enough for the church. If God sees sinners repenting as more important than a bunch of people who go to church regularly, then maybe we need to stop growing our churches and getting out on the street. Jesus didn’t just sit in the temple, looking for the riff raff to come to him. He didn’t just have a seeker’s service. Rather, he went out and established a party in every village he went to, and shared the gospel at the party. He attracted the riff raff with the kind of gathering they liked, in their area, and then spoke a message that wasn’t easy for them to hear, but it was the truth. Not everyone believed, but it was important. So the church doesn’t just need to welcome the riff raff, they need to go out where they live and give them a party.
Why should we do this? Because these riff raff—even if they’ve been following Jesus for years, they feel that they are second class Christians, or that they have no chance of being right with God at all. They think that their lives are apart from God and there is no acceptance for them. How is this? Because the church has separated themselves from the riff raff. As long as the church will have nothing to do with the riff raff, the riff raff figure that they don’t need God, either.
Yet Jesus focused his ministry on the riff raff. Jesus loves the riff raff. And Jesus’ first church was full of the riff raff—more than the “normal” folks.
How are the Riff Raff saved?
This is the easiest question to ask, but the hardest one to live out. We know that everyone is saved by faith in Jesus, by their devotion to God, their repentance from sin and their reliance on the Holy Spirit. That’s how everyone is saved, without exception, forever and ever, amen.
But the church doesn’t act that way. Rather they act like the homeless are saved by pushing through paperwork to gain homes. They act like the addict is saved by going to some anonymous group and never relapsing. They act like the homosexual is saved by getting married to someone of the opposite sex. They act like the mentally ill person is saved by taking medication. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these things. But they aren’t THE answers for people with these problems.
The only way anyone is saved is through Jesus and reliance on the Holy Spirit. And Jesus and the Spirit will lead the outcast person to the things they need for their lives. Sometimes the answer will be homes, marriage, medication and dishwashers and everything that makes up a middle class life. But for many people, it won’t.
Jesus, in calling the riff raff, chose to be homeless. He chose to be rejected. He chose to be without a family. And many of his followers went the same way. Jesus became homeless to welcome the homeless. He became familyless to welcome the familyless. He became penniless to welcome the penniless. He became rejected to welcome the rejected. And so we cannot insist that the outcast—or even the middle class—to be a part of the church must have homes, families, money and acceptance.
If the Riff Raff aren’t in the church, the church isn’t of Jesus