Who Eats with Sinners and Tax Collectors?

The Feast at the House of Levi, Veronese

In the continued saga of the current administration’s immigration policies, restaurants have become places of protest. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen have both been confronted with protests while dining out. Secretary Nielsen was jeered by protesters, while Mrs. Sanders was asked to leave the the establishment.

Predictably, this has become “a whole big thing.” Opinions are divided about whether or not these actions were correct.

Before I continue, let me be perfectly clear about one thing: over the past two months, both Sarah Sanders and Kirstjen Nielsen have defended the indefensible policy of separating children from their families.

The current administration policies regarding immigration and refugees make me very angry, and I certainly understand the desire to express that anger. I want to scream at the people responsible. And there’s a time and a place to give voice to that anger — to protest, to vote.

These policies and these officials should be confronted. And while yelling at administration officials or denying them service at a restaurant may scratch that angry itch, I’m convinced it’s the wrong course of action.

This is not a matter of maintaining civil debate. The president who kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists and murders,” and the press secretary, who just this past week insulted the intelligence of a reporter, ceded the high ground on the civility debate. While I hope that civility returns to the political sphere and long for the days when we can disagree well, that’s not my concern today.

As one called to ministry in Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, as a presbyter, I’m focused on how we can bring about repentance and conversion. How can we proclaim the coming Kingdom of God in this present crisis? If we follow the example set by Jesus of Nazareth, what do we do?

Some point out that Christ entered the Temple and drove out the money changers and that he cursed the fig tree. Sure. Jesus did that occasionally.

But mostly, Christ ate with people. More than that, he ate with sinners and tax collectors. He ate with agents of the Roman Empire — traitors collaborating with the very government that would soon nail Jesus to the cross.

Consider how our Lord calls Levi, better known as Saint Matthew: by entering his home and eating with him. It caused such a stir that the Pharisees started complaining.

Or the famous story of Zacchaeus, another tax collector, who was desperate to see Christ and climbed up in a tree. Our Lord called him by name and invited himself over.

This is not to say that we should ignore the human rights abuses playing out on our border. It’s not even to say that we should ignore administration officials to let them eat in peace. Rather, we should follow the example of our Lord: Invite yourself over. Plop down at the table. Start eating. And call them to repentance and newness of life.

“Madame Secretary, have you heard the cries of these innocent children?”

“Hi, Sarah. Let me tell you about the folks who work at this restaurant and how the administration’s policies are hurting them.”

Go. Make yourself the guest of a sinner.

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