We tend to get dressed up when we go to Church. That’s good! It’s respectful. At the same time, it sometimes prevents us from grasping an important spiritual point: Jesus wants to be with us where our lives are messy, too.
For example, we read about Bartimaeus this week. His life is messy: he was blind and a beggar. When he called out to Jesus, people wanted him to be silent. They didn’t think Jesus wanted to deal with his mess. Jesus, however, called Bartimaeus over and wanted to have a conversation with him. He wanted to know what was on Bartimaeus’ heart in the place where his life was messy. After Jesus healed him, Bartimaeus followed Jesus. It was his way of giving thanks.
We also read about Jesus’ and Zacchaeus this week. At the start of the story, we’re told that Jesus originally intended to pass through the town; He wasn’t going to stay there. But then He encountered Zacchaeus and wanted a deeper conversation with Zacchaeus, so He decided to stay at his house. Jesus wanted to be there — in the house of a sinner who needed mercy and conversion. Zacchaeus responded with tremendous generosity. It was his way of giving thanks.
Jesus’ choice to stay with Zacchaeus didn’t make sense to people. They complained: “He’s gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But that’s precisely the good news for us: Jesus doesn’t only want to encounter what’s dressed up and buttoned down in our lives. He wants to come into where we’re most deeply broken and in need of conversion.
I know a priest who on Sunday nights, after everything is done at the parish, goes back to his house to pray. He sits with an icon of Jesus, and lets Jesus ask: “What do you not want to talk about?” And that’s what they talk about in prayer. He lets Jesus into the mess and struggles of his life. It’s part of why he’s such a joyful priest.
That would be a good prayer exercise for all of us. What part of our lives do we most want Jesus not to see?
Of course, the truth is that Jesus already knows about it, but waits for an invitation to come into our lives there; He won’t force His way in.
Our casual acquaintances see us at our best. But we let our best friends into our lives more deeply, and so they know us where we’re messy. What about Jesus — do we only show Him what’s dressed up, or do we also show Him what’s falling apart?
Jesus wants to come into our houses, even and especially where we’re unclean. If we let Him in, He’ll both comfort and challenge us. Like the biblical characters, the deeper we let Jesus into our lives, the deeper our thanksgiving will be.