Just a Cup of Water

The desperate father brought his pallid son to Jesus’ disciples, begging for their help to cast out the evil spirit tormenting his boy. The disciples tried their best, but their best was not enough. They gave the pitiful boy back to his heartbroken father, apologetic but unable to do anything more. It must have been embarrassing and infuriating then, when the disciples came across an exorcist who was not even a follower of Jesus casting out demons left and right (and using Jesus’ name to boot).

Indignant, the disciples rebuked the freelancer and as soon as they returned home, John, adrenaline still pulsing, sidled next to Jesus. Teacher, John said, you’re not going to believe this but we saw someone who’s not part of our group casting out demons in your name – but don’t worry, we put a stop to it. Unbelievable, huh?

But Jesus looked at John and shocked the room with his response. Nah, leave them alone. If they’re not our enemy, we’re going to count them as friends. Then Jesus goes a step further. What’s more, all someone needs to do is merely be willing to offer a cup of cold water in my name – and for that simple gesture, they secure an eternal reward. I imagine the disciples looking at one another, scratching their heads, thinking “come again?” Look, Jesus says, the bar’s pretty low here. We’re just looking for bare minimums: don’t work against us and pass us a cup of water. We need all the friends we can get. More power to ’em.

Boy do we need Jesus’ words today. I’m grieved at my own swiftness to judge, to reject, to feel superior or more secure by dismissing those who follow Jesus differently than I do.

Too often, those with a traditional understanding of faith lose their minds over those squishy progressives and enact a scorched earth policy against all the looney compromisers. Likewise, too often, those with a progressive understanding of faith go ape-shit crazy at those neanderthal conservatives, using ridicule and mockery to embarrass the fundamentalist wackos. And we just had Pope Francis visit, so I don’t even know where to begin with the Catholic / Protestant divide. Friends, anger is not the way of Jesus. Rejection is not the way of Jesus. Snark is not the way of Jesus.

If you’re not against me, Jesus says… If you’re just wiling to pass a cup of water, Jesus says…

Sometimes we work very hard to not be labeled as one of “those kinds of Christians” – I get it. Distinctions matter. Stating what we understand, and trying to be more and more faithful to the way of Jesus is good, necessary. But I think we know when we’re really just protecting our ego, working out of fear or anger – or trying so very hard to not look foolish.

Jesus exhibited massive patience, going overboard with his eagerness to welcome, his relentless desire to see the very best possibility in another. What if we practiced more gentleness and generosity toward each other – even toward those who represent the very things that ignite our ire? What if we decided to be Christian before everything else?

Everyone’s Invited to the Party

outside dinner party

Jesus once told a story about a king who threw an outrageous extravaganza to celebrate his son’s happy nuptials, a bash sure to blow the socks off every party planner in the kingdom. 5 star chefs filled the tables to overflowing. A chart-topping band stood ready to get the dance floor moving. The party giveaways would put Oprah’s Favorite Things to shame. However, in a shocking turn of events, every single one of the RSVP guests decided last minute they had better options and would not make the festivities. The king swallowed his pride, weathered the outrageous insult and pleaded a second time with the guests. Please, join us. The dinner’s ready. You won’t have to wait. It’s all gratis. It will be fun, I promise. Come, party with us. Yet again, every guest brushed off the invite.

But the king refused to surrender the party. This king never gives up on the possibility of joy. He sent his servants out for a third pass, instructing them to gather everyone they found, the riffraff and the wealthy entrepreneur, the ones who were belles of the ball at all the swankiest shindigs as well as those who never, ever get the call. Bring them all, good or bad, the king said. Robert Capon describes the scene:

[The King] doesn’t give a fig that they look like pigs and smell worse. He doesn’t care that they don’t know hors d’oeurves from Havana cigars. He doesn’t care that they eat with their hands and blow their noses without handkerchiefs. In other words, he does not make any stipulations about them at all. They do not have to get their act together in order to be worthy of the party, any more than the prodigal son had to guarantee amendment of life before getting the fatted calf. They have only, like the prodigal, to accept the acceptance and go with the flow. The king and the father, you see, are party people.

So in streams the motley assortment of high society debutantes, roughnecks and more than a few moochers. And the king was glad to have each and every one. However, off in the corner sat a solitary sulker. This was the one person present who had refused the king’s gift of a wedding garment, the gift allowing everyone proper attire for the gala. Always the kind host, the king asked, “Friend, how did you miss the gift at the door? Why don’t we go pick out any suit you like.”

But the brooding man sat mute. His silence leveled yet another snub of the party, another rebuff of the king. Apparently it’s possible to be at the party without really being at the party. At least the first set of guests had the decency to not feign interest, but this silent, sulking fellow mocked the generosity with his defiant posture. So the king gave the sulker what he wanted. The man obviously had no desire for the festivities, so the king removed him from the banquet hall with the vigor that surely would catch his attention and surely would force him to grapple with how, outside the king’s party, there’s sorrow, not feasting.

But everything about the story tells me this: the door was always open. With only the slightest wisp of interest, the king would again welcome the man back onto the dance floor.

The sad truth is this: not everyone wants the party. Everyone gets the invite, but not everyone has the good sense to show up and join in the soiree. But the party’s waiting for us, always. If you’ve ever wondered if you’re included – you are. And if you’ve ever wondered if you’ve run so far that you wouldn’t be welcomed back – you haven’t.