Recently, I spoke with a friend who, upon moving to a new town, visited the local church she had grown up in. She said all the heads turned when she walked in, and they weren’t just looks of curiosity. As she found a seat, she had a feeling that she was sitting in someone else’s seat. She sat through the service, feeling uncomfortable. She continued to try to visit the church, picking different pews and different spaces within them for several Sundays. Each Sunday, she was met with the same reaction, that she was occupying a seat that belonged to someone else or that she was unwelcome. She even waited one Sunday until the last minute, after the church bells rang, giving everyone a chance to sit in their regular places. She still was met with turned heads and eyes looking down their noses. The minister never payed her a visit and she finally quit going. Why go where you don’t feel accepted or wanted? I’ve thought about our conversation a few times since and it strikes me how their reception is so unlike my friend’s personality. She embodies the same opening arms towards others as Jesus, not judging, but loving people exactly as they are. Others from all walks of life are welcome in her world.
I wonder what those church people could have had in their minds to be so cold to such a warm and caring person? Were there rumors or gossip they had spread and believed, which are usually lies? Or did they feel they were too good for her? Or were they so cliquish, that they didn’t accept others who hadn’t been in their fold for years? Greater still, would they recognize Jesus if he came through their doors and sat in one of the pews or would he have been met with the same huffs and looks of derision? I can tell you they did encounter Jesus, and they didn’t recognize him, because we carry Jesus with us, when we are believers. (Galatians 2:20 “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.“) We are the light and perhaps that is what they didn’t like. Her light was dispelling their darkness and their sins of piety and holier-than-thou attitude.
I think of how opposite their attitude was to Jesus’ attitude towards others. The first one that comes to mind is the Samaritan woman. He hadn’t heard rumors about her, he Knew her life story, but that didn’t keep him from talking with her and offering her the living water.
John 4:7, 9-10, 13-15 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink? The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He went on to ask her to call her husband and she said she didn’t have one and he told her she was right, she’d had five. But that didn’t stop Jesus from conversing with her or offering her salvation, because he didn’t look at her sins or what people said about her, he looked at her as redeemed.
Another story that comes to mind is when Jesus ate with Levi, a tax collector and sinners. It was then that the pious teachers of the law had a fit! They couldn’t figure out why Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners. But how would he reach them, if he didn’t fellowship with them? They welcomed Jesus at their table and many turned their lives to follow him.
Mark 2: 15-17 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
So these were people that were not accepted in the community, but what about those who were? What about the leaders, how did they treat Jesus when he dined with them?
Let’s look at one Sabbath at a prominent Pharisee’s house, (maybe a deacon or bishop in today’s standards).
Luke 14:1-4, 7-11 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law,“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus didn’t allow the circumstances of those around him to stop him from doing what his father had sent him to do, to heal the sick and save the lost. He also didn’t miss an opportunity to teach them how ill-behaved they were in choosing their seats and jockeying for position. So, to me, my friend was in good company, because her lifestyle was the same as Jesus, going again and again where she wasn’t wanted and continuing to love those who are rejected by society as she had been. I wonder, is there a seat for others in your life? Is there a seat for Jesus?