By Micah Risinger
“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Ever wondered why Paul advocates for the “holy kiss” four times in his epistles? Roman society, with its social-status structure, required that people only exchange kisses with peers (i.e. people of the same class). This is not all that different from how we, in our culture, only kiss family members (or those with whom we are intimate). However, for Paul, this isn’t so much a matter of physical affection as it is a matter of fellowship. In other words:
Who do you identify and associate with?
Who is in the family?
Who is welcome to the table?
Paul is not encouraging the church to be more cuddly but to have an open table like Jesus. Check out Eugene Peterson’s telling of Jesus’ eating with ‘tax collectors and sinners’:
Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders” (Matt. 9:10-13 [MSG]).
When we think of ‘sinners,’ we typically think of those that are immoral (i.e. people who lie, cheat, steal, etc.), but for the Pharisee, the ‘sinner’ was anyone that wasn’t Jewish (or able to practice the Torah). That means people of other ethnicities, the sick or infirm, those who had colluded with the Roman government, or as Peterson puts it, “crooks and riffraff.” That means you and me. But Jesus said he came for the outsiders, which has been God’s mission from the beginning (see Gen. 12:3).
The church, according to Paul, is the place that brings together Jew and Gentile, men and women, slave and free, rich and poor (Gal. 3:28) because they are all one in Christ or in Messiah (i.e. the anointed one, the king). These are the people that transgress (or perhaps transcend) the normal social strata in order to maintain its higher allegiance to the way of Jesus instead of the way of Rome (or any empire). The church is the place that welcomes sinners, outsiders, the people that don’t have it all together, the people that need and desire mercy, like you and me. Let us be encouraged by Paul’s words to the Roman church:
“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them (Rom. 15:5-9 [NLT]).
The great prophets of the scriptures were always the people that critiqued the surrounding culture and tried to raise people’s imagination to the way of God, to his kingdom. And they often did this through poetry, so I would like to conclude with an excerpt from something I’ve entitled, “Label or a Table”:
It’s not a formula you can solve
Or a system you can manage
It’s not a political platform
For the powerful to take advantage
Not for merciless iron fists
Lording it over the meek
But for merciful hands
Reaching out to the weak
So, don’t try to force
Our peace to your puzzle
Don’t negate us with labels
That turn into a muzzle
You can’t silence this kingdom
It’s already too quiet
We just bake and break bread
We just sow some seed
We’ve no thirst for revenge
We would rather bleed
Because this table is not closed off to some
But open to all who would simply come
Let us greet one another with an open table.