How might we begin to develop our ability to read the Bible more Christocentrically—that is, as a book that speaks everywhere to us of Christ?
First, it is essential that we develop the skills of attentiveness outlined in chapter ten and have some experience of using those skills in our reading of the Gospels. Until we have learned, at a deep level, to discern and respond to the presence of Christ in the Gospel narratives (where he is most conspicuously present), we will always struggle to identify how, say, Leviticus or Job might be revealing Christ.
Last month I talked about getting my face out of a book and learning to welcome the person standing in front of me. It’s been an adventure (and generally fun) to pay attention to the person standing in line with me and the person knocking on my door. (I’m still working on the telemarketer trying to make a living by calling me!)
The next step is “welcoming the stranger.” Not often listed as a spiritual discipline, this practice was one Jesus emphasized by how he welcomed all kinds of people and identified with them: “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me… when you did it for the least of these, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:31-35, CEV). Such welcoming is tangible and helpful, even offering them a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:40-42; see also Matthew 18:5 and John 13:20).
Who are our strangers? People appear to us as strangers for different reasons but they usually fit into one of these categories:
Outcasts. A person’s past didn’t disqualify him or her from being welcomed by Jesus. While most rabbis threw stones at lepers, Jesus welcomed them (Matthew 8:1-4). He touched the untouchables.
Wrong-doers. The immoral past of the Samaritan woman did not disqualify her either. In fact, Jesus went out of his way to extend himself: he had to go through Samaria (John 4:4). He welcomed this person who was also a stranger ethnically and gender-wise. He should not have had a conversation with any woman in public but he not only did so but also invited her to enter into a deepened relationship with God.
Anyone who isn’t like me. When we see or meet people who differ from us politically, ethnically or theologically, a little “ping” may go off in our head that says, Ooh, Different. Step back. I wonder what Jesus’ disciple, Simon the zealot, thought when Jesus healed and then praised the faith of a Roman centurion. Simon would have viewed the centurion as a prime candidate for assassination.
A stranger may just be someone of a different economic class. In a church full of homeowners, an apartment dweller often feels like a stranger. A disabled person is a stranger in the midst of fitness buffs as is a non-reader among well-read folks. Military kids or missionary kids, parolees or drug rehab graduates may all qualify as strangers among those without that type of experience.
Anyone we’re tempted to exclude and ignore. Strangers are often people in power-down positions: “children as opposed to adults, women as opposed to men, minority races as opposed to majority races, the poor as opposed to middle-class, the middle-class as opposed to rich, lower-paid workers as opposed to highly paid workers, less educated as opposed to more educated, blue-collar workers as opposed to professionals.” The elderly are easily overlooked. When my quiet 80-year-old mother-in-law came to visit, our other dinner guests never engaged her in conversation. I wept later to think of the many times I had neglected to speak to an older person.
Or we may avoid pushy people, people who talk too long about themselves, those who scream and pout for what they feel they deserve, know-it-alls, or people who let their kids run wild. In any “us versus them” situation, “them” are the strangers.
The shocking thing about Jesus is that he did not merely tolerate such different people. Jesus offered himself to them in self-giving love. I am able to do this only when I ask Jesus to reach out to others through me.
Excerpted from Invitation to the Jesus Life, ch 5. ©Jan Johnson
Join the Conversation
Who are the “strangers” in your life?
What might be some small step you might take in welcoming one of them?
An uncomplicated yet powerful spiritual exercise is to merely practice the presence of God throughout our day:
- thanking God for a beautiful sunset or the best coffee we’ve ever tasted,
- asking God to help us with a computer problem or find something,
- sensing God’s presence as we close our eyes and listen to a favorite song.
I have always believed that challenged relationships are usually lessons of some kind. I had a little time and picked up my “O” magazine for a little diversion. This particular issue was devoted to “Inspiring the Best in You”. I leisurely turned pages, having prayed and cried out to God for wisdom. I just couldn’t take the stress of the chaos from my colleague. I turned page after page trying to find refuge in the beautiful colors and shiny trinkets being advertised. Then I turned a page that stopped me dead in my page turning tracks. “May We Help You?” the page asked and it’s subtitle “Dear Me”.
As we wait on the cusp of this week, waiting to spill over into that night of betrayal and all that comes after, consider what, by the waiting, God might be moving in your soul.
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A few more resources for this holy, holy week:
A reflection on what “vigil” means by Stephen Smith of The Potter’s Inn.
A Celtic prayer for sleep and a reflection on the kneeling Christ by Mama:Monk.
I’m writing this post just after noon on Good Friday—at the outset of the 3-hour period of silent reflection on Christ’s Passion.
Jesus became a human being to model what being human is.
That includes the cross.
I have no accurate conception of God’s love apart from the cross.
I would not love God if it weren’t for the cross—for, as Scripture says, we love God because God first loved us.
Without the cross, I would have no reference point from which to understand what it means to offer my body as a living sacrifice or to lay down my life for others. Without the cross, in fact, I would have no life at all.
And now, through the cross, Jesus calls me afresh to live the cruciform life: