Last week while I was in Ohio, I went to church on Sunday morning with my family that I was visiting. The pastor was preaching out of John 13 on serving others with humility, but he said something that struck me in a different way than the point he was trying to make. He said,
“Who’s sitting at the table with Jesus?”
I’m pretty positive that he was asking who was literally sitting at the table with Jesus in the story he was preaching on, but I took it a different route. I started thinking about the present day Church and the people that we deem “worthy” of hanging out with and reaching out to. Our standards are so so different than Jesus’ were. In my notes I was taking during service, I wrote down, “I know this isn’t the point the pastor was trying to make, but who is Jesus inviting to the table? Are we inviting those people too?”
Right now I’m reading Mark 2 and I am just CRYING at the beauty and love and empathy of our Jesus!! In this passage, Jesus is literally sitting down and eating a meal with Levi the tax collector and the other outcasts who had been following him that day (other tax collectors and probably lepers and prostitutes and children and the lame and the list could go on!). Some Pharisees (the men who were literally LEADING THE CHURCH) mocked Jesus and asked his disciples why he would choose to eat with such men. Jesus overheard and responded with, “people who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” (Mark 2:17)
Jesus had NO SHAME for hanging out with the people that most others would avoid even eye contact with. He loved them and he cared for them. Aside from his twelve disciples, it seemed like the outcasts were his go-to people to hang out with.
So who were the people that Jesus hung out with?
The demon possessed.
The sick, blind, and lame.
And the list could go on and on and on.
And ya know? I really don’t think Jesus entered into these relationships with a goal of changing them. Of course he normally did, because that’s just who our Jesus is: a savior and a healer, and it is almost impossible to meet him face to face and not walk away changed. BUT I think his purpose of knowing these people was to simply love them. To show them that they’re worthy. That they have a place in this world, and in the Kingdom.
And I just really can’t help but wonder… why the heck don’t we do that now?
My uncle and I talked about this the other night after we watched The Greatest Showman (he’s a retired pastor and called the movie the “second best Gospel movie of all-time,” so of course we had to talk through all the similarities and metaphors afterwards). In the movie, P.T. Barnum reaches out and finds the outcasts to join him as he creates the world’s first circus. Of course, at first his mission was to find the weirdest of the weird so that they can basically be made fun of, but his mission changes and it all becomes so much more. These so-called “outcasts” find a family and unconditional love and their place in the world. They’re seen as worthy people for the first time. Barnum was the Jesus figure to these people–he gave them a home and showed them that they belonged.
I don’t know how it’s 2018 and we’re still so bad at this.
The Church isolates basically any group of people that isn’t middle-class, successful, and without too many bumps in the road. If you don’t fit the ideal of what a Christian “should” look like, you’re mostly likely shunned and unwelcome.
Friends, if we really want people to know the Lord, this isn’t how we make that happen!
If Jesus were physically here today, who do you think he would be hanging out with?
Us? The people who are isolating HIS people?
No. He’d be hanging out with
immigrants and refugees (and yes, EVEN those who try to enter the country illegally!),
people of color,
people of other religions,
the mentally ill,
sex industry workers,
the poor and homeless,
kids in foster care,
and all the other “forgotten” (aka ignored) members of society.
And how often as a Church are we hanging out with these people and inviting them to our table?
This is where we’re doing something wrong. This is where we’re messing up.
If we really wanna follow Jesus, we gotta LIVE like Jesus. And that includes opening up our table.
In all honesty, if Jesus were here right now and he was having a big dinner party, I don’t think we’d be at the top of the invite list. He’d invite all of those people that I just mentioned before he even looked at the Church because we are not living and loving as we should be.
I don’t know how we’ve gotten this so messed up. The second greatest commandment is to LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. And instead we’ve somehow twisted that to “love your neighbor if they are like yourself.”
We aren’t called to change people. We are called to love people.
So let’s go get a bunch of those foldable tables and put them all together. Invite our LGBTQ+ classmates and Muslim neighbors and the homeless man on the street corner that we see every morning. Invite the moms who are working as strippers just to be able to put food on the table for their kids, the dads who are in and out of rehab for alcohol and drug abuse, the families who are fleeing persecution in other countries to only meet persecution and imprisonment once they reach American soil. Let’s open up the table and invite all the people the Church has been avoiding.
Let’s love them,
let’s hear their stories.
Not to change them, not to convert them.
But simply to show them that they have a place here, and that that place is with us.
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
“And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus
But you’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go
So, go!.. Go!..
And hold all the mothers, whose babies bleed from bullet holes
And feel all the hunger, the bellies and the bones
Shout for the prisoner, cry for justice, loud and long
And march with the victims, as Jesus marches on
And sit at all the tables, ’cause Jesus eats with everyone
And dance to the music, if you can’t sing its native tongue
And cry for the wombs, the mothers and the empty arms
And hold high the warriors, fighting now for freedoms’ song”
— Dear Me by Nichole Nordeman