One of the books I’m reading right now is refreshingly pointed in reminding me that Jesus came to break down dividing walls. Listen to some quotes:
“…the laws of religion, then and now, thrive on our need for outcasts. They codify who’s in and who’s out, what’s a right day for healing and what’s a wrong one, who’s pure and who deserves to be struck down with a disease that makes the untouchable.”
In contrast to this, the author does a marvelous job of articulating how Jesus’ life runs in exactly the opposite direction from this as he seems to seek the outcasts and hang with them as a way of putting meaning into the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” God with who?
The Samaritan woman, who by her gender, race, and reputation, was thrice an outcast.
Tax collectors, who were hated by Jews because, let’s face it, the tax collectors were unjust thieves.
A bleeding woman who was, by law, untouchable.
A dead body.
“From the very moment of Jesus incarnation, God has been doing exactly this: restoring creation to order by entering a human body; staying with us in the darkest, sickest places; taking on social and finally physical death, so that we can all become one and rise from the dead.”
I’m thinking about this because I sometimes get this sinking feeling that, though God is terribly patient with this American enterprise called evangelical Christianity (of which I am a part, a leader even), and though God is merciful, God knows that we are missing something big, something central, knows that we have it wrong – mighty wrong.
The thing that seems to be missing is the personal crossing of the street, from the comfort zone of people like me, to the uncomfortable zone of people utterly unlike me, in order to be with them as Jesus was “with us.” I’m glad our church sends money to Uganda to provide water, glad we support missionaries that are doing great things in Romania, Macedonia, Ghana, and elsewhere. But I’ll confess to you that I’m not crossing the street – not nearly enough, not to listen to people unlike me, not to be the presence of Jesus for people in the midst of messes. Jesus did this. Some of his followers do this. I don’t do this. And it’s bothering me.
I’m not writing out of guilt, and hence not looking for comforting words. Neither am I ranting, with some sort of wholesale condemnation. I just met with some friends who lead a church in a needy part of Seattle who are crossing the street all the time. I’m blessed to know them, and both challenged and humbled by their example. So this isn’t a wallowing in guilt, and it isn’t a rant or a wagging of my finger.
I’m simply asking this question. If we’re the visible expression of Christ on earth, and Christ was busting across social boundaries all the time, loving people that the religious people weren’t loving, why is it that we the church are so often like the religious people (knowing, and hanging out with people who think, vote, shop, and believe exactly like we do) and so rarely like Jesus?
We should fix this.
I welcome your thoughts.