History: the aggregate of past events; all that is preserved or remembered about the past. We ALL have a history, do we not? For some of us, the "story" is quite involved, colorful, and a little seedy at times. For others, the "story" may be a little less complicated, kind of mundane, without too many shades of grey. Regardless of the "shades" painted by our past, there are still things from our past which act upon us today, influencing how we interact with the present.
Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. (Romans 14:1 MSG)
It is sometimes quite difficult to welcome into our fellowship those with "histories" which vary completely from our own - especially when their history is filled with all kinds of shades of grey. For those who see things as black or white, dealing with anything marginally outside of "white" or "black" is almost unnerving. As you get further from white or black, it is easier to "judge" the individual as "too far out" of the acceptable "range" - in turn, we almost cannot accept them into our fellowship. Here's something I have had to learn in my own life - even I have shades of grey, if I am honest with myself, which probably give someone else just a little bit of difficulty dealing with!
Jesus was not the kind of guy to exclude those with a past. In fact, he took in the Roman employed Jewish tax collector. Now, if you don't see the contradiction in terms there, you need to understand Roman had taken Jerusalem - they were the ruling party - taxing the Jews was part and parcel with a ruling party's agenda. To employ a Roman soldier or citizen to do the task of taxing the citizens of their new territory would not be a big deal, but to employ a Jew - blasphemous! Jesus also took in the ones in the community who had been labeled as having just too many shades of grey for them to "fit" into the normal church-going crowd - such as the prostitutes, lepers, and ceremonially unclean.
Everywhere we observe Jesus, we seeing him dealing with those who caused the "self-righteous" a whole lot of concern - simply because they only saw the "shades of grey" in the lives of these outcasts of society. Jesus saw way beyond the shades of grey, into the heart and spirit of these men and women. In contrast to the self-righteous, he embraced them - not afraid their many shades of grey would rub off on him. In fact, he embraced them openly because he was giving us an example of what it is to extend grace - favor where it is not deserved.
From our passage above, Paul issues a challenge to believers everywhere. We all come to Christ with our "histories" - no one is without one. As we do, we all have one thing in common - grace. It is upon this foundation of grace we are to invite into fellowship those who have embraced the work of grace in their lives. They will not "perform" as we might expect them to for quite some time - still dealing with the various "shades of grey" which have been part of their lives for a long time. Yet, in time, if they are welcomed with open arms and gentle spirits, grace will have its effect. Instead of judging these individuals, we should be welcoming them - as did Jesus. The telling words in our passage, "Remember, they have their own history to deal with," is really what Jesus was saying all along as he taught, healed, enjoyed a meal with, and just plain hung out with those with "histories".
The sad thing we forget is our own history and the fact someone else is having to deal with OUR history, as well. It is easy to see the "shades of grey" in another, all the while forgetting the shades of grey in ourselves. We would do well to consider the common ground we each have if we are believers - grace! Just sayin!