Patty LaRoche: Dining with the Dirty

Charlie Brown was upset his dirty friend Pig-pen received the same party invitation he did and told him so. “Good grief! You didn’t even change clothes! You’re not going to Violet’s birthday party looking like that?!!”

Pig-pen looked down at himself and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Charlie Brown threw his hands in the air and said, “What’s wrong?! You’re a mess, that’s what’s wrong!! They won’t even let you in the house, Pig-pen! They’ll bar you at the door!”

Pig-pen said, “Oh, I don’t think so…¨

Charlie Brown raised his voice: “Of course, they will! You won’t be welcome at all! Your appearance will be insulting.”

Before Charlie Brown could finish his words, the door swung opened and there stood

Violet. “Well! Pig-pen! Come on in! How nice to see you! How nice of you to come.”

From behind his back Pig-pen brought out a gift and presented it to Violet who gushed, “Oh, thank you! You shouldn’t have!”

As Violet held the door open, Pig-pen turned around, closed his eyes, thumbed his nose at Charlie Brown and declared, “The present was clean!”

Seeing past unloveliness is not easy, except, of course, when we want others to see past our unloveliness. The Bible gives us the biography of a tax collector named Levi. You might know him as Matthew, as in the “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” quartet. Few were as hated as tax collectors. After all, they were the ones who bid on districts to own the rights to tax the people as they saw fit. The government expected “X” amount each year, and any “profit” went to the collector. Many were corrupt, but more importantly, the Jews despised them because they were collecting taxes for the Romans, the chief oppressors to Israel. Tax collectors were therefore considered as traitors and sinners, no different than prostitutes, gamblers and thieves.

Along comes Jesus. He, like Violet, sees not the dirt. He sees the present, the someone who matters, the someone who needs to know him, and he encourages Levi with two words: “Follow me.” Not as easy as it sounds. Levi probably makes a good living. To walk away from his secure job means someone else will pounce on his position, and chances are he never will get it back. And for what? To follow a man who noticed him.

Hidden in these scriptures are some real nuggets. Levi immediately throws a party (my kind of guy!) and invites his friends to meet Jesus. Matthew and Mark record that the guests at his banquet were other tax collectors and sinners. Rejects hanging with rejects. Levi wants them to meet the one he has chosen to follow. His attitude is not one of haughtiness; it is of compassion, just as Violet’s was…just as ours should be. But is it? Like Levi, “Come meet the one I’ve met” should be our first priority.

But there’s another nugget here. Jesus came to the party! To a banquet filled with imperfect sinners. Get that? Jesus chooses to hang with the riff-raff. He doesn’t first sit down with Levi and lecture him on the spiritual laws of salvation. Levi doesn’t have to meet Jesus’ standards as a first-step towards their friendship. Jesus accepts him and his friends as they are, in spite of how they appear to others. Jesus sees past the unloveliness.

The people just like Pig-pen.

The people just like Charlie Brown.

The people just like you and me.

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