Although I can't say for certain that you won't find Jesus in Target, if you're following any deity who's leading you to retail outlets without leading you toward people, you might want to do some sort of an ID check. Jesus is all about people. He was even pretty clear that following him might lead people away from their blood kin, and it almost always lands them among beloved strangers. When we follow him, that's where we end up too.
"But Margot," you may protest, "Jesus was with Bible strangers. Aren't those particular people, with whom Jesus consorted, lepers from two millennia ago? And aren't they overseas?"
That would be handy, wouldn't it? Then, if we didn't know any lepers, we'd sort of be off the hook. Or if the people Jesus loved were just out of chronological reach, then, conveniently, we'd be freed up a little bit for other stuff. Or if today they were geographically segregated to India or Ethiopia or Haiti, then we'd have a legitimate excuse to avoid the strangers Jesus loves. Clearly, if you're scheduled to coach Little League this Saturday, then you simply cannot be crossing any roads or oceans or language barriers to follow Jesus toward the ancient people with whom he just naturally rubbed elbows.
If we equate Jesus' ancient neighbors—lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors and other unlikelies—with the neighbor we wave at in the next driveway as we're hopping into our fuel-efficient sedans, we've also misunderstood Jesus. A respectable first-century Jewish man would no more naturally rub elbows with any of those unsavory folks than you would in your cul-de-sac. Jesus was, however, taking his cues from and following the lead of Another.
Jesus had studied the speech and gestures and expressions of his Father. He had watched him move toward the hungry, the captive, the naked, the homeless. He had paid attention when his Father reached out toward the poor, the prisoner, and the brokenhearted. Because the heart of his Father clearly dwelled among these, Jesus moved toward them. His eyes rested upon them. His feet crossed roads to be with them. His hands touched and healed and fed them. Jesus' body literally tracked, followed, and embraced the ones who dwelled in the center of his Father's heart. In this, his Father's own became his own. As we physically follow Jesus with our bodies, the stranger becomes our own as well.
Cross the Road to the Beloved Other
If you think that the poor and weak and brokenhearted aren't residing in your daily orbit of influence, I'd challenge you to take another look. Although you might not have any clinically diagnosed lepers, I promise you that there are others—sick, lonely, poor, shunned—who are closer than you think. In Friendship at the Margins, Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl invite us to open our eyes to the beloved strangers in our midst. They exhort, "Every community has people who are invisible or overlooked, and each of us can move toward wholeness through the friendships we offer and receive."
Yesterday I was driving downtown and I saw a woman I call "Zacchaeus" wearing a visor and bright yellow shirt duck into a drugstore. I do not believe that Zacchaeus is her given name, but it's what I call her. "Z" (for short) is the town's meter maid. By my reckoning, anyone who does nothing all day besides troll around looking for cars to ticket has got to be just as despised by her community as the first-century tax collector. At least by me anyway. I scowl at her even when I'm driving right past her and my car isn't anywhere near a parking space. My disdain came to a head a few years back because, while my church friends and I would be enjoying a powerful lesson at our women's Bible study, she'd be creeping around outside ticketing the cars of those who'd exceeded the two-hour street parking limit because they'd arrived early to set out freshly baked treats. If that's not persecution, I don't know what is.