Would You Invite Jesus Home for Dinner?
You’ve probably heard of the changes made by the Catholic Church to the Mass recently. The stated aim of these changes is to make the English translation of the Mass more like the original Latin text, and to better reflect the words of Jesus. Most changes don’t seem particularly important and if anything seem to make the words less natural. For example, when the Priest says at the beginning of the service , “The Lord be with you.” The congregation are now to reply, “And with your spirit” instead of the more natural, “And also with you.”
There is one change however that does give us some good opportunities to share the Gospel with friends and family this Christmas.
At a very important point in the Mass, just before Catholics receive Holy Communion, the congregation say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof”, they used to say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you”. The reason given for this change is that these new words echo the words of the Centurion in Luke 7:6 and Matthew 8:8 who said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed”. This Centurion is commended by Jesus for his faith. He is not even a Jew, yet he trusts in Jesus’ power and authority more than all the Jews. However it is the faith of an outsider, a Gentile, not one of God’s chosen people. The Centurion recognises that as a Gentile, he is not worthy for a Jewish rabbi to come into his house as this would make the rabbi unclean.
In the Catholic Mass these words are said by baptised, confirmed Roman Catholics who have gone through extensive training before being allowed to participate in Holy Communion. Other Christians are even excluded from participating in this part of the service. In the Catholic Mass the words, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” are said not by unbelievers but by those who are supposed to be closest to God. However in the Bible this is not the way Jesus encouraged his followers to approach God. In the Lord ’s Prayer Jesus tells his followers to say “Our Father in Heaven,” using the most intimate of words for Father – “Daddy”. Also Peter is rebuked for thinking of himself as unclean when Jesus washes the disciple’s feet.
Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet, his whole body is clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean. (John 13:8b-11).
Christians are clean before God, even when they sin because of Jesus’ sacrificial death for them. It isn’t appropriate for a Christian to say to God –“I’m not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” This sort of false humility or false piety denies what Jesus achieved on the cross, keeps God at a distance, undermines assurance, keeps people feeling unworthy and leads to a works based faith that encourages people to do good works to become worthy . What child would say to their loving Father, I’m not worthy for you to come into my house?
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer got it right when he reformed the Catholic Mass. He replaced these words with the prayer of humble access, “We do not presume to come to your table merciful Father trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold grace, we are not even worthy to eat the crumbs under your table but you are rich in mercy ..." If you read it carefully, he is actually saying that we do presume to come to God's table because of the grace of the Gospel. A very radical thing to do in his day ... no wonder he got himself burnt.
The faith Jesus desires says this; “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). And , although I don’t deserve it – I know I am a child of God (Romans 8:16). Anyone can say I am not good enough for God. Only Christians can say I am acceptable to God because of Jesus.
Why not ask your Catholic friend what they think of the changes in the Mass this Christmas, and then ask whether they think they are worthy for God to come under their roof? You might just get the chance to tell them how they can become worthy.
Feature photo: jronaldlee