Who Will You Invite To Sit At Your Table?
A few years ago I read that quote in my Becoming a Contagious Christian book and was moved by it. At the time, I was a youth pastor and I just couldn't escape this quote. I gathered up some pictures of different people (portraying different moods and stereotypes) and then brought it to youth group with me.
So many times we need to come face to face with uncomfortable truths to step out and truly love people in the way that God loves us.
I showed them these pictures and asked, "Would you seek out this person to be their friend?"
I have to admit, some of the people looked absolutely terrifying. Some of the pictures made me uncomfortable as the person seemed to be staring into my own eyes, begging me to step outside of my own comfort zone to see their value as plainly as Jesus does. These students shared their assumptions about the person based off of appearance and divided the pictures into two groups, the yes and no piles. That's when I busted out this quote that had plagued my heart and mind for days.
We were all humbled that night as we stared into the faces of the scariest looking people and realized that God loved them as much as He loved us. It was humbling, not in a dividing way, but a unifying way. Even more than that, I think we were all challenged to step outside of our comfort zones and seek those we might not normally gravitate to. I think we all left that night with a new perspective as we understood that God's love was meant for all people, not those who looked like us or appeared to have the same values as us. We left knowing that every person is valuable, no matter what they look like.
Have you ever looked at the different stories of Jesus sitting at someone else's table? Above are two examples, and we'll see that Jesus wasn't your typical guest. You'll also see that Jesus was happy to sit with people whose presence might compromise Jesus' reputation (at least in the eyes of the religious leaders). Jesus challenged everyday people to show love to ALL of their neighbors, not just the ones who looked like Him or appeared to have the same values.
In Matthew 9:9-13, we see Jesus choosing to spend time with "tax collectors and sinners." In Luke 7:36-50, we see Jesus sitting at the table at a Pharisee's house when a "sinner" came in and began to clean Jesus' feet.
When I look at the different types of people Jesus spent His time with and who He shared His table with, I'm certain that the same scary-looking people would have been the exact people that Jesus would have spent His time with. When I look at the different reputations He associated with, I'm moved to step outside of my comfort zone and love others in the same way that Jesus does.
Let's zoom in on the people who sat at Jesus' table and rethink the people that we invite to ours:
Jesus didn't shy away from people based on their reputation or sin.
Jesus spent time with tax collectors who had reputations for being greedy and for cheating people. He spent time with prostitutes, which we all know the reputation of prostitutes because the reputation hasn't changed. He spent time with people who, at least on the outside, didn't appear to reflect God's heart or values. These were the people that He gravitated to. Maybe they were people who had been raised to follow God's way, but had fallen away. Maybe they had never really paid attention to God. Maybe they didn't have a relationship with God at all.
Today, in our culture, we come across a lot of people of various faiths. We find people who have never heard the message of Jesus Christ. We'll find people who might have been raised to follow the way of Jesus, but who never made that decision for themselves. Are we expecting these people to live like Christians even if they've never known Him for themselves?
Think of the people in our current culture and time, think of the people who might not quickly or readily be accepted into your church and seek those people out. Why? Because those are the people that Jesus would be spending His time with. Jesus cared less about someone's reputation and sin and more about pointing them to God, His Love, and His presence in their lives. Shouldn't we concern ourselves with Jesus' heart for this world?
Too often we hear people say that they have to fix themselves before they enter into a relationship with Jesus. What they need is someone like you and me who will invite them to our table and share the good news that Jesus meets them right where they are, wherever they are. That Jesus loves them extravagantly and wants them to have a changed heart and not a "fixed" life.
Jesus didn't shy away from people based on their social status.
Rich or poor, sick or well, religious or not, Jesus interacted with all types of people. He sought out the poor, the sick, those who may have been rejected by the religious leaders of that day. He ate with the religious leaders, pointed them towards God and a right understanding of His Word. He didn't gravitate towards the rich, the healthy, and the religious. He didn't shy away from the poor, the sick, and the irreligious.
He wasn't in ministry to make a buck or to elevate His status. He talked to people, sought out outcasts, and loved on people simply because He loved these people!
I think about how you can have one opinion about someone and then have your opinion completely change when that person shares their heart and their struggle. I can move from not wanting anything to do with someone to incredible compassion when I see them for who they are and where they're at. I think about how Jesus knows us (Psalm 139) better than we know ourselves. He looked at us and was moved to compassion and love. We're the reason He came to this earth and left Heaven. We're the reason He died on the cross and extends salvation. His love for us was so great that it's so hard to put into words.
My prayer is simply that He would give me His eyes to look at the world with. My prayer is that I'm constantly moved from a place of shying away from people to a place of showing compassion and love to them as Jesus would.
Jesus didn't shy away from people based on their need.
Have you ever met that person whose need seems to be so big? Their need is overwhelming and constant. Maybe they look to you to fix all their problems. Maybe you start to feel like this person is using you or taking advantage of your generosity.
I open my Bible and look at the crowds of people who follow Jesus, who don't really seem like they want a relationship with Him, but who do want a physical change in their life (a healing or deliverance of some kind). Do you notice that the immense need for healing and deliverance doesn't cause Jesus to run in the opposite direction? How much of His day was spent just touching the untouchables, giving sight to the blind, giving strong legs to those who couldn't walk, giving health to the sick. He spent so much of His days giving, healing, loving, touching, and delivering. THEN, on top of that crazy schedule, He preached and taught them about the God who loves and gives as generously as He did.
Maybe that person in our life who seems like they're trying to take advantage of our generosity is, in fact, just trying to get closer to what you have. Or more specifically, WHO you have. Maybe they want less of the stuff you're offering and more of the God you're serving.
Seek God and use wisdom. Ask Him for direction on this person in your life. And when He gives direction on how to better love these people in our lives with tremendous need, obey Him. Don't shy away from the need. Don't let the need scare you off. Run to God, ask for wisdom and direction, and love them in His way.
So who will you invite to your table? Jesus didn't let reputation, sin, social status, or even need get in the way of showing His love through hospitality. Will you step outside of your "usual" guests and invite someone you don't know well? Will you invite your neighbor who may not be living the life you'd want them to be living? Will you invite that friend whose biggest need is their need for Jesus? Let's make a point to set a place at our table for the person that Jesus would be spending His time with today.
If you're looking to invite someone new to your table, be sure to read this post on Welcoming Jesus To Your Table. It gives excellent tips and tricks for preparing your heart for welcoming them to your table.
Who are you setting a place for?