Summary: This is a tough question! Do I want to become more like Jesus, or do I want God to help me become more the person that I selfishly want to be?
Was Jesus a nice, polite, mild-mannered, good-natured young man who kept himself to himself? Was Jesus middle-of-the-road, all things to all people, politically correct, and softly spoken? Was Jesus the most inoffensive man you could ever wish to meet? I wonder what kind of gentle, meek and mild image you have of Jesus? I wonder, to what degree is your image of Jesus accurate.
If Jesus came to stay at my house what would he say to me and my family? If Jesus came to stay at your house what would he say to you?
In our Bible Reading today here we have Jesus eating a meal in the house of a prominent religious teacher (14:1) on the Sabbath - the day of rest; and during the meal Jesus says and does some very challenging things! We don't get the impression that Jesus simply makes polite conversation!
I guess when we are invited to somebody's house for dinner we don't very often do controversial things during the meal and we don't very often say controversial things either. Is that because we basically want to be nice people, inoffensive, and liked by everybody? We don't get the impression from today's Bible reading that Jesus was happy to simply be liked, because his actions, his parables, his stories and his conversation were challenging. Put simply, Jesus got up the noses of religious people and well-to-do people in general. For me, the challenge is then a very simple one: as I observe Jesus in action in the Gospel narrative, and if it is true that to be Christian is to be like Christ - like Jesus - what does that mean for me? When I pray, “Lord, please make me more like Jesus” - which is what the Holy Spirit does in us in any case - do I know what I'm praying? Do I really want to become more like Jesus? Or do I really just want to become a nice, polite, mild-mannered, good-natured young man who keeps himself to himself?
Which of these two prayers am I really praying? Lord, make me more like Jesus - make me into the person you want me to be; or Lord, please make me into the person that I want to be - likeable, loved, popular, wise, funny, respected, sought out and successful.
During the meal on the Sabbath, whilst he was being carefully watched Jesus healed a man suffering from dropsy. Yes, Jesus had compassion upon the man, but this event was also a sermon illustration for the religious experts around the dinner table. Having compassion wasn't the issue. Healing on the Sabbath was. Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” There was a quiet hush around the table. It was like those moments that I seem to experience when I say something either a bit inappropriate, perhaps not fully thought out, and perhaps not as funny as I imagined. I often leave people speechless but probably for the wrong reasons. Jesus left religious experts speechless for the right reasons!
Jesus then looked around and noticed how the dinner guests were picking out places of special honour at the dinner table. Proximity to the host of the dinner made you a special guest but this is all being done for show. Do we do things for show? For some people our equivalent might be having a house in a certain part of town, driving a particular make and model of car, attending a certain ‘big-name’ church, being able to claim that we are friends with a well-known personality, being on the church council, being part of the family that has attended your church for longer than anyone else, or simply anything that is done with an attitude that is not Jesus-like; and Jesus, after telling a parable, says this: everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (14:11).
Jesus then gives some very specific and direct advice to the host of the banquet (14:12 to 14). I don't think I've ever criticised anyone's guest list like this!
When you throw a party don't invite your friends and relatives and rich neighbours. They can all invite you back. When you throw a party invite those who can't repay you - the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Invite those who don't have enough food to eat, invite those who don't have families, invite lonely widows and widowers, invite those whose parents have died, invite those single parents because they are effectively widows, invite those who are not well and celebrate with them. They won't repay you but God will.
I know, you're feeling a bit uncomfortable. So am I! I always do when the teaching of Jesus shines upon my life like a searchlight. However, the question remains - what are we going to do about it?
Lord, make me more like Jesus. No longer do I want to be the person that I selfishly long to be. Amen!