“Stay in your lane,” says yet another self righteous young internet user, probably on Tumblr, schooling someone she disagrees with on whatever subject she’s become an expert: Russian hackers, feminist theology, “automatic weapons,” Shelby Mustangs, or the sexuality of various actors. The subject doesn’t matter. The idea is that people who don’t know or don’t agree ought to go Over There.
Facebook has made an entire industry of this now, accidentally on purpose (probably). We are finding ourselves exposed to whatever its algorithm thinks is “our lane.” We don’t have to look at icky Other Things. If you wrote and posted an article on dating four months ago, Zuckerberg’s monster now thinks that you want to read articles on dating 24/7, to the exclusion of all else. If you Liked your Aunt Susan’s babka recipe, you receive nothing but dessert bread links for weeks. You’re not only stuck in your lane; you’re on a train track.
We do this in real life, too, which in moderation is an evolutionary advantage meant to help us not be killed. If you see somebody running at you with a knife, you get out of their way. But we’ve hyper developed this fear of the unknown into an avoidance of everything that doesn’t sit well with us, which Jesus admonishes against in today’s Lenten Gospel reading, Luke 5:27-32:
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes
complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Look, I don’t want to spend time with tax collectors, either. I don’t want to talk politics with Lefties because they tend to get really emotional. I don’t want to come off like a crazy Jesus lady by talking to everybody about salvation because I want people to like me. I also don’t want to talk to quiet, creepy people because I’d rather be having fun with my friends (who are obviously all super cool people with great senses of humour).
I wonder what would happen if we all started talking to “creepy” people, especially when they are young, before they decide to act out their rage on their classmates and coworkers. I know that won’t always help. I know that some people are walking tornados, human forces of nature, and no amount of intervention or government regulation can prevent acts of nature at our present level of scientific knowledge.
But for a lot of kids deemed sinners or pariahs, eating and drinking (or just talking) with them could be life changing. The black stain on our modern world is not weaponry (that’s always existed) or mental illness (also with us since the dawn of time). It’s isolation. We are the most connected humans have ever been, which means when we choose to disconnect from others, it has a far greater impact on them.
Imagine if Jesus had never reached out to that tax collector. What would Levi’s life have been like? How many more people would he have exploited on behalf of Rome? What influence did Levi’s change of heart have on all the other tax collectors he invited to the banquet?
Our small kindnesses have consequences far greater than we imagine. All Christ said was “Follow me.” Maybe all we need to do is say “Hi, there!” to someone we would normally rush past.