Have we grasped God’s grace? How do we react when a promiscuous woman kisses the body of Jesus? Do we celebrate God’s grace, or are we scandalized? The grace of God turns out to be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Jesus is socially disruptive; his radical grace disrupts social situations. And we don’t like church to be disrupted. We regard marginalized people in the church as “a problem” to be “handled.”–Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus
The Prodigal Son is probably the most well-known parable of the whole Bible. A story of a young son demanding his inheritance from his father, only to squander it. Not long after, he returns home to seek a job as a servant in his father’s household. Instead, his father embraces him with welcome and lavish grace. Meanwhile, his big brother incredulous says to his father, “I’ve been faithful all these years and you’ve never thrown me a party; yet, you bring out the fattened calf for this vagabond brother?!”
What many people do not realize is the parable is actually about the big brother, not the prodigal son.
We as modern/postmodern readers attach to the younger son; yet, I would argue most of us are more like the big brother throwing temper tantrums when someone of less notoriety and immorality are awarded a higher position….handed grace.
In Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus, from chapter two “Meals as Enacted Community,” we are brought to Luke 7:40-50. Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus into his home for a meal to find a woman of immoral character coming into his home taking on the role as host as she bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears and expensive perfume. Her words are found in her sobbing, in her grief, as she is fully aware of what she’s done; and, there is a loving Jesus to embrace her without regard to what others will think of him. Meanwhile, Simon despises this woman, enraged with what appears as a seductive scandalous meal.
As the church in our online lives we lean more towards being graceless.
We are living in a space where some Christians are building up their pristine glass houses trying to ensure none of the evil in their heart could come out into view of the public eye. We are living in a space where some Christians are building up their social justice walls to ensure none of the culture will view their Jesus as a constructed wall too easily to crumble.
We as the church in these Twitter or Facebook feeds are shouting at one another from our fixed positions. It is easy to spout our need for grace, while regularly not extend it to our neighbor; because, our neighbor holds different views than us. This goes beyond the online world as well into our physical lives. Chester writes,
Whenever we look down on someone for being smelly, or disorganized, or lazy, or emotional, or promiscuous, or socially inept, or bitter, then we’re like graceless Simon. And if we look down on people for not understanding grace, then we are like graceless Simon. If you’re thinking about how this applies to someone else, then you’re like Simon. Jesus says to us, “If you look down on others, you love little, because you understand so little of your sin and my grace.”
We can fall into either camp so quickly without blinking. We can easily look down upon those who are “beneath us,” be it their social standing, bank account, lack of tact, criminal record, sexual life, political ideologies, and fill in the blank. Or, we can begin to read Psalm 51 and realize how wicked our hearts are and the only person we are accountable to is Jesus the Christ.
In reading this chapter, I am hit between the eyes with my own hypocrisy and heart so easily to judge another. I can read through my Twitter account and criticize the heart of my brother or sister without ever having a meal with them. I realize how I can watch a person walk into the sanctuary who doesn’t quite fit in; because, their clothes are ragged and smell….and yet, I’ve never shared a meal with them. I see how my own children can embarrass me by the food smeared on their face or a meltdown in public view, even while I share a meal with them.
It’s all about my heart.
I am the big brother in the Prodigal Son parable. I want to do everything good without receiving criticism or admonishment. Maybe, it’s because I don’t want someone to judge me so I work hard to appear blameless.
Still, I see Simon and the repentant woman in me. One day it’s the woman, and the very next it’s Simon. We are all susceptible to becoming either one. How do we break the cycle of turning back into Simon or the big brother? We need to understand grace, and not just how we give it to others; but, how God’s grace extends to us.
The morning I got a call from my dad that my older brother died of a heroin overdose changed what grace meant to me. Prior to this day, I didn’t see the other as my actual brother. When someone you love deeply dies in a non-honoring way, you fight to let the world know how valuable this person was and will forever be. I wanted people to know the Willy I knew, not the addict. I don’t want his cause of death to name him; because, that’s not what Jesus called him. Grace for me is seeing others through these lenses in how I see my brother.
It’s because we are all prone to have sin overtake us. It drives a wedge between us and Jesus. It’s where we believe the lie, “My God can’t forgive me.” Forgiveness is critical to grace. Critical not just in the forgiveness of others; but, in the forgiveness of self. We cannot expect to offer grace to another if I have not understood the grace by which I am saved first and foremost. It is through this understanding of grace for ourselves where it overflows to others. Chester writes,
I need to be melted and broken by grace. When I speak with someone who’s an alcoholic or a single mother, or someone who’s depressed or unemployed or unemployable, I must do so as a fellow sinner…If I do not understand this, then my good intentions will be patronizing.
Meals provide a bridge for this grace, which change our lives. They cause us to see the other. We become vulnerable by inviting someone different from us to share their life, their story, and themselves with us, in order for us to find a bit of ourselves in them. Shared meals in return create a platform for us to find ourselves, offer up forgiveness, and discover reconciliation.
I can recall times where inviting someone new to my table wasn’t easy, nor was it something I wanted to do. But, in the end, I always found Jesus’ promise of redemption in changing my heart to look like His. Sometimes it’s been a joyful process, while other times it’s been me repenting for my selfishness. Either way, it’s been opportunity for the Holy Spirit to search my heart. In these moments, I have heard God’s reminder how He first loved me, reminded me of His redemption in my life and why I need to continue to offer hospitality.
These hospitable meals are found in the family dinner table where “collateral damage” is a very real thing. They are found by inviting friends over for refuge for your soul. They are found in the meals with extended family where civilities are lost. They are found in the meals with strangers where awkwardness abounds. But, in each of these, we make room for grace.
We make room for grace for our children who we welcome, even when their meltdowns and grease marked fingerprints streak the walls. We make room for grace for our friends who grow in deeper intimacy. We make room for grace for extended family even when we wonder if we would spend time with them if we weren’t related. We make room for grace for the person we don’t yet call friend by pulling out our calendar and purposing to invite a new face to our table.
We make room for community to transform our brokenness, in order to find the shattered parts melded into a Christ mosaic. This, my friends, is hospitality.
As Chester aptly puts it,
Around the table we offer friendship and celebrate life. Our meals offer a divine moment, an opportunity for people to be seduced by grace into a better life, a truer life, and a more human existence.
As the church, we are to be this to the rich and poor, the marginalized, the least and lost, both the Prodigal son and the older brother. Let us seek to transform our tables where we serve scandalous grace meals. Those meals where our table reflects the broken and restored body of Christ. The meals where we know at the end, Jesus was truly present. Not by anything we did; but, because His love broke down barriers the way His grace only can.
How could you extend this hospitality in your homes? How is your church body providing space for the marginalized? In what areas of your life can you relate with Simon? In what areas of your life can you relate to the woman in Luke 7? Where have you experienced this scandalous grace, and where have you been able to give it to someone else?