In June, I wrote about possibly having lunch with a woman from my church to talk over our political differences. I didn’t have illusions about changing her mind, but I hoped I would come to understand a little about why we hold such divergent views. Thus far, we have met for lunch twice. I am now cognizant of some of the sources that support and inform her ideas, but I am not any closer to understanding her—nor, I imagine, is she to understanding me. And yet, out of our conversations has emerged at least one new thing for me to ponder.
Which is the use to which we Christians put the name “Jesus.” After our second meeting, Louise emailed that we shouldn’t have lunch anymore because our conversations have been stiff and formal. She suggested we meet instead at a “cozy bar” over “a glass of wine or two.” I responded that I had not found our conversations stilted; and that if I had, I would have attributed the awkwardness not to the meal or the locale but to the nature of the topics under discussion. But if she wanted to be more informal, I said, perhaps we might meet for coffee. I added that I would rather not meet at a bar, as I prefer not to mix delicate or controversial conversations with alcohol. She responded rather pointedly: “It seems to me that Jesus actually did mix drinking wine with discussions of religion and politics.”
I was surprised, for up until that point, neither of us had used Jesus to drive home one of our points. Also, I don’t know if I even buy her argument—though I have not gone back and looked closely at the Gospel stories involving Jesus, wine, and sensitive conversations. What I do know is that Jesus did many things that are way out of my league. Walking on water, stilling storms, and raising the dead to life are among those that spring to mind. Maybe drinking while talking politics is another. Anyhow, I wasn’t intending to assert Jesus’s preferences—only my own.
I have puzzled over her statement. Did she take my words about not wanting to mix alcohol into our talks as a personal rebuke, and feeling stung, did she mean to zing me back? Was she trying to shame me by comparing me to her idea of the model Jesus set? (How can you call yourself a Christian if you don’t do what Jesus did?). Did she intend to use the name of Jesus to badger me into changing my mind? (If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you). Or did she simply want to emphasize that, despite our differences, we share a common bond in that we both claim to be followers of Jesus.
I don’t know, but the questions raised by her comment have made me think about how I use the name of Jesus in conversations with others. As a weapon? As an invitation? As a challenge? As a balm? Casually and spontaneously? Only after much careful thought?
Or do I even use the name of Jesus at all?
Yesterday I saw a sign outside an automotive shop on Route 17. It reads, in all caps:
JESUS IS THE ONE
GIVE GIFT FIX CAR
I’m puzzling over that one, too.