Growing up, religion always seemed to be black and white. All things could be divided between two categories: sacred and secular. The sacred was inclusive of everything that one could place the word “Christian” or “Jesus” in front of. It was anything and everything expressly church related—scoring extra points if it was “bold in its Gospel message.” The secular, was everything that was not. Whether it be witchcraft or Katy Perry music, the secular was a way of describing anything that did not belong. Something other. Something excluded. It was believed to be a centrality of the Christian life to distance oneself from all things secular. It wasn’t until later in life that I began to see the error in this thinking. It is now my understanding, that the Gospel is rooted in tearing walls downrather than building walls up. The Gospel is rooted in solidarity.
There are a myriad of problems that arise when we filter things through sacred and secular. When we look at things outside of the Church in this way—or when we look at peopleoutside of the Church in this way—we build walls and disrupt any expression of commonality between us. This is ultimately nothing but a hindrance to the Gospel. We assume a posture of usversus them. And in this instance, theyare nothing more than an enemy—a hindrance to God’s sovereign plan—rather than a human being created in the image of the Divine.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is referred to as a “friend of sinners.” Often, Christians will use this in the context of the exhausted idiom, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” We take it on as part of our identity to turn broken people into projects for conversion. We pretend to be gracious and loving, as long as we are able to keep those people at arm’s length.
What we fail to remember, is that Jesus being labeled a “friend of sinners” was meant pejoratively. The full verse highlights people interpreting the behavior of Jesus as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). In other words, Jesus is a friend of sinners because he is associated with those who cling to him and profess his name. And the radical, offensive truth of the Gospel is that Jesus loves and associates himself with us—Christians—despite the damage that it does to his reputation. Rather than seeing the world in a binary separation of sacred and secular, we need to remember what Peter comes to understand in the book of Acts; that the only distinction that makes something sacred is that God has declared it to be sacred (Acts 10:15). It is the state of creation that we are all in the same predicament. We are not meant to build walls and draw divides. Rather, the Gospel is an invitationto restore the world back to its intended structure.
It is through this lens that we find our theology of solidarity: Jesus invites us into a new way of living by literally becoming one of us, so that we could become one with him. It is in this expression of solidarity that any walls between the insider and the outsider are torn down, and we can begin to glimpse the kingdom of heaven.