Finding Jesus in Unexpected Places (with our vulnerable neighbors)
|Kurt Willems||May 30, 2017|
• 5 Minute Read
Recently, I wrote about the wondrous way in which the glorious God encountered in Isaiah 6 is shown to us in the Gospel of John to be Jesus (read Here) . We discovered that we too can see the glorious God when we look to Jesus.
Of course it should never surprise us when Jesus is revealed in the Old Testament. Jesus himself told us that all Scripture is about him (John 5:39, Luke 24:27). However, it still came as a surprise to me.
That surprise keeps hounding me. It begs the question: where else am I failing to see Jesus? If I can miss Jesus enthroned in heaven, surrounded by thunder and winged creatures, might I be missing Jesus in other places?
The answer is yes. We often miss Christ who is here and now in our very presence.
Despite what you may have heard, the way of Jesus is not one that is separated from this world, offering only heavenly delights and ethereal bodies after we die. The ways of Jesus, the meaning of the incarnation and resurrection, is that this life, the flesh, blood we are given to inhabit this world in are spiritual. It means that we meant encounter the risen, glorious Jesus here and now.
As a person who longs to see and know Jesus ever more clearly I need to know where to look.
WHERE IS JESUS?
The easiest way to do this is to ask Jesus himself. And no surprise, the answer is pretty obvious, because he told us exactly where he is.
However, far to often our comfort, our laziness, our prejudice keep us from the very place where Jesus is.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison an you visited me…. I assure that what you have done for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (Matt 25:34-36, 40).
In Mark Jesus tells us that,
“Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”
Where is Jesus? How do we encounter the glorious Jesus and the Father who sent him? Both these passages tell us that we will encounter God in the faces of those who are in need, the sick, the vulnerable, the poor. When we welcome the least of or world and society we welcome Christ.
DOING WHAT WE WERE CREATED TO DO
I know lots of people, who know nothing about Jesus, and they get this glow when they talk about a time they helped someone who needed it. We should never be surprised when communities band together to support a local food bank, or a Go Fund me page for a child with cancer vastly exceeds the necessary donations, or a stranger donates bone marrow for someone.
What happens when we find ourself in the margins of society, believer or not, is we encounter the presence of the risen Jesus.
For those with eyes to see, we know that serving the most vulnerable in our world today is not only serving people, it is serving Jesus. It is fulfilling, not just because it feels good, but because it is touching on the very core of what what we were created to do!
THE MOST IMPORTANT COMMAND
It is fascinating that in the New Testament Jesus tells us that the most important commandment is to love God and to love our neighbour (Luke 10:27).
However, those who come after Jesus simply write, “love each other.”
For example the author of 2 John writes,
“Now, dear friends, I am requesting that we love each other. It’s not as though I’m writing a new command to you, but it’s one we have heard from the beginning.”
Clearly the author is referencing Jesus and Deuteronomy and Leviticus before him.
Yet, the line about loving God is noticeably absent. This is consistent with the way the New Testament authors write and think.
Another clear example of this is found in James does the same in his letter.
“You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbour as yourself.” (James 2:8)
Why is loving God missing? Is it because they didn’t think they were supposed to love God? Obviously not. Rather, it is because they understood that you cannot love God, and not love your neighbour.
How can you claim to follow Christ, and then ignore him? How can you claim to love Jesus and then fail to give him shelter, water, hospitality?
The New Testament authors all knew that if you wanted to encounter the glorious risen Jesus, then you had to go to the margins.
Bonhoeffer nailed it when he wrote, ‘The ‘philanthropy’ of God (Titus 3:4) revealed in the Incarnation is the ground of Christian love toward all on earth that bear the name human.”
Because of the incarnation of Jesus, we know that this world matters. All humans deserve love, care, and dignity. All humans deserve water, food, shelter, hospitality and healthcare. Because God loves all people. When we work towards these things, we do the very thing we were created to do. We serve Jesus.
I said at the outset that this isn’t really a surprise. Jesus isn’t hiding. I know that too often in my own life it is just that I don’t want to go to him. I can feel like saying, “Really Jesus? isn’t this a little too much? Can’t we just meet on Sunday mornings in church? Or we could meet each other at Starbucks over a Blonde Vanilla Latte and my Bible. How much am I really supposed to do? Do I really have to serve you there?”
And even as I express my own thoughts and selfishness, I heard the words of Scripture,
“Though he was the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking on the form of slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7-8)
God has always been breaking boundaries, and going to the farthest reaches of society. Jesus spent his life on the margins of society, he died outside of the city, why are we surprised when he tells us that he’s still there, on the outside, with those who need him most?”
Will you pray with me?
Lord, when we strive after healing in the world and nourishment for those who hunger, we find you at our side. Whenever we long to see your face, help us not avoid the corners of our communities where you most often dwell. Stir our hearts that we might seek and find you today in those places where you have promised to be. Amen.
1) Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, A Testament to Freedom, 321.
2) C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis, 247
3) Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.
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