Okay, so there are a lot of “things” about Jesus. But the thing I’ve been meditating on most recently is his mind-blowing capacity to meet people exactly where they are. It seems like a simple concept, but we struggle day in and day out to accept people as children of God. Instead, we tend to ask things of them before they’re deemed worthy of our love, time, or respect. Or before they’re deemed worthy of food or medical care (another post for another time).
Let us think about some Scripture. In John 8, Jesus doesn’t walk up to the prostitute and say “Alright look, I’ll tell them to leave you alone but only if you cleans yourself and promise never to sin again. Otherwise you’re on your own.” Instead, well, you know the story. Instead he tells the scribes and the Pharisees that anyone among them who has never sinned may cast the first stone. And, predictably, they all drop their weapons and walk away. It is then, after Jesus accepted and protected the woman as she was, that he sends her on her way and tells her not to sin again.
Let’s look at another. In Luke 19, Jesus doesn’t approach the tax collector Zacchaeus and say “I’ll stay at your house if you quit your job and give away your riches.” Instead he sees him up in the fig tree and says “Zacchaeus, I’m crashing with you tonight. Let’s go.” And through this ministry, Zacchaeus is inspired to give away half of his possessions and repay those he has cheated. But this is only after Jesus recognizes him by name, thus acknowledging him fully not as a sinner but as a child of God.
In both instances, Jesus met people exactly where they were. He did not ask for things before loving them. He did not expect change before encounter. And so I ask myself: Can I do that?
There are some lines from a book I’m currently reading that got this whole piece rolling for me. They read, “So, if you want to live in accord with Him, you can’t do it just by being law-abiding. You have to try, again, to be like Him, and to do what He does. He doesn’t wait for us to come to Him where he is, out there beyond the need for the law; He comes to us, right now, where we live in the grip of our necessities, to bring us the rest of His gift, to complete the work the law began.”
I felt like the words were screaming up at me from the off-white page. “Jessica, take note!” See, I’ve spent the last 12 months or so organizing faith groups on college campuses around climate change with the goal of changing hearts and minds. My goals have always been a) to get people to believe in climate change and b) to get them to take action. And shoot, if I haven’t been thinking about it all wrong…
I’m starting to see that I can’t walk into a classroom or a campus meeting or a sanctuary and say “This is what I want you to believe.” I must first meet those children of God exactly where they are. I must acknowledge the realness of their situation. I must speak to them directly without distraction. I must be present in that encounter before we can talk about any greenhouse gas emissions. Because each of these people matter. “They matter in themselves. They are not a means to an end.”
We climate activists get so anxious sometimes about rising sea level, increased intensity of storms, and the level of CO2 in our atmosphere that all we can think about is comprehensive climate legislation. In my mind, we need a bill and we need it now. But by approaching the issue this way, I’m failing to live in accordance with Christ. I am failing to meet people exactly where they are.
So as I continue with this work in 2014, I vow to do better. Change will happen — I have to believe that. But for now, I will do my best with what I can control. No matter the end goal, I must first meet people where they are.
Follow Jessica on Twitter at @j_r_church