My Favorite Thing About Jesus

I love Jesus.

That has become such a common, trite phrase that I’m not sure we really think twice about saying it. It’s simple enough to go to church and play by the rules, but when we say “I love Jesus,” do we really know this God man that we claim to love?

Like with any close relationship, getting to know Jesus is a process – sometimes a difficult one. He certainly wants to be known by us, but He’s so vast and divine that He is beyond our finite human understanding.

The most recent leg of that journey for me has involved studying the gospel of Mark, and reading the book The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey (which I HIGHLY recommend). Yancey, a journalist and recovering skeptic, approaches the book as an investigation of a simple question: whose was and is Jesus Christ?

Like me, he found that the Jesus that walked the streets of Nazareth was starkly different from the smiling white man in Sunday School paintings, “in some ways more calming, and in others more terrifying.” Instead of the conquering Messiah the Jews had hoped for, overthrowing Rome with his political charm and military strength, He was a homeless preacher who told His audiences to love their enemies. A suffering Messiah who would be degraded on an instrument of torture was no Messiah at all to most of the Jews. But, He came to free people from an enemy far greater than Caesar: their own sin.

We celebrate His triumphant resurrection this Easter. But I find myself equally captivated with how he lived as how He died and rose again. He defied expectations placed on Him by centuries of prophecy in many ways. But the way I find most touching is the company He kept.

This man was God in the flesh. Yet, instead of an honored place in the temple among the high priests, He broke His bread with the most marginalized (women, lepers, even Romans) and the most sinful (tax collectors, prostitutes, promiscuous women). For the Pharisees, who thought they could impress God with their piety, He had only rebuke.

This is a message of sweetest hope for someone like me. You see, I identify both with the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee’s prideful prayer recorded in the gospels, in which he thanks God for all the horrible things he is not, resonates with the darkest parts of my heart.

Growing up, I always had the ability to impress people. I could carry a tune from the time I was a toddler. Adults found me smart for my age. I was raised in church and my Sunday School answers were on point. I genuinely did love God, but I craved the praise and recognition of being exceptional. Like the Pharisees, some part of me thought I could impress God; that I needed to for Him to accept me.

Then I realize the truth. The evil in my heart is unmasked: unchecked pride, malicious envy, indulgent lust, and more. Grieved, I know that I have nothing to bring before God but filthy rags. In thinking I was something, I became nothing. It’s in this realization that I can only echo the prayer of the tax collector: “O Lord! Have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Those are the prayers that God hears and smiles. The proclaimers of these prayers are the ones with whom Jesus spent His time. He told us He came for the sick and not the healthy. The truth is that we’re all sick; He is just waiting for us to see it.

So my favorite thing about Jesus is His love for the outcasts, the marginalized, and ultimately, the sinners. Because of Jesus, there is room at the Heavenly table for someone like me.

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