A Community that Reflects Jesus

Consider how Jesus might have behaved as a member of your small group.

Community has become such a buzz word these days that I'm never certain we are on the same page when we use it in dialogue. Do we mean a neighborhood, a group of friends, or people with similar interests? Are we talking about a location or an intention? Something realized or becoming? And when we put the word faith in front of community, what does that mean?

What does it mean when I say that Jacob's Well is a "faith community," not an organization? Ultimately, it means that the center of our faith is Jesus Christ. We are a Christian community, and to that end we seek to be a community that reflects Jesus—that seeks to live life together in such a way that we are recognized as being like Jesus.

What Would Jesus Do?

To describe a community that reflects Jesus inevitably means a community that embraces the outsider. This is what Jesus was doing all the time. Remember how he collected his motley crew of disciples? He didn't go around looking for the elite. As I recall, he came under some rather severe criticism for taking on the guys from Galilee (can anything good come from there?), the uneducated fishermen, and he really went out on a limb by accepting Matthew and his sordid prior profession as a tax collector.

Beyond the 12 guys that we could call his core community, Jesus had a broader community that was equally diverse. Consider the fact that he let women finance his ministry. Wow! In a culture that debased the value of women and gave them no power or recognized personhood, Jesus apparently broke all the rules. He received provision from women. He traveled with them. He spent time in their homes. And he did the same with others who were marginalized in his culture—lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. He talked to them. He touched them. He called them friends (Matthew 11:10).

Let's consider this for a moment. Who were the sinners? They were the irreligious, the non-devout. They were the ones who had gone their own way and made no pretense about following God. They were quite outside of the community of faith. Notice that Jesus didn't invite them to synagogue. He didn't organize healing crusades at the temple. He simply ate with them and shared his life with them. He got to know them in their places of familiarity; he joined them at their tables.

What if Jesus became our model for good leadership? Or for evangelism? Or for the making of disciples? I say "what if" because, frankly, I don't think many of us approach those who are outside of our faith communities the way Jesus did. We would prefer to stay comfortable, and so we invite people we are comfortable with into our places of comfort—to our churches, our home groups, our houses, our tables. Occasionally we'll stretch ourselves to meet someone on neutral territory at a local coffee shop, or at our gym. But when was the last time you intentionally entered into relationship with someone who is outside of what is familiar to you? Outside your place of comfort?

What would it look like today to be accused of being a friend of sinners? Maybe you're overwhelmed at the thought of friendship with a heroin addict or a sex-trade worker. Maybe it's too much right now to contemplate fostering or adopting a child. But what steps could you take toward a place of discomfort, to practice extending yourself to embrace another?

We had an intern who applied for work as a personal chef and listed me as one of her references. When the employer phoned to ask about her work ethic and skills, she mentioned the theological studies our intern was completing. The potential employer disclosed that she and her lesbian partner were seeking a chef and some childcare for their two young sons. She candidly asked me if I thought it would be impossible for our intern to work for them because of her Christian beliefs.

I exclaimed, "No! I would certainly be surprised if she felt she couldn't work for you because of her faith in Christ." What I wanted to say was, "No! Absolutely not. That is precisely the type of job Jesus would have taken. He would have wanted to enter your home. He would have wanted to serve you. He would have even wanted to become friends with you! And we want to be like him." As it turns out, our intern got the job and love it. In fact she loved those women! She started out serving them and was later invited to join them at their table, where they cooked for her as a friend.

What Will You Do?

So where can we begin? Could your 11-year-old son learn to serve the lonely, elderly man at the end of your block—the one the rest of the neighborhood kids avoid? Maybe your son could cut his lawn and rake his leaves. Maybe he could become friends with someone everyone else isolates. That would be like Jesus.

Perhaps you know of a colleague who hasn't been at work because they've been diagnosed with cancer. Could you go and visit them? Would you be willing to brave the hospital with its strange smells and sobering realities? Could you even overcome the discomfort of knowing it will seem odd if you show up there because you're not close friends? Could you do this because Jesus said that when we visit the sick, we visit him?

Maybe you have never invited someone who is not from your church or your family over for a meal. What if you took the risk of inviting a neighbor for dinner? What if they sat at your table and you broke bread together (which would call to your mind the body and blood of Christ broken for you) and you learned about them, you listened to them, and you offered them acceptance—even friendship? If this sounds uncomfortable to you, pursue it. Christ lives there.

Being a community that reflects Jesus means we cross the boundaries between our world and the world of the other, the one who is unlike us. It means that, like Christ, we die to ourselves, albeit gradually, and learn to inhabit places of grace. It is essential for us to remember that our invitation into the kingdom of God was not a call to elitism or safety. It was, and is, a call to emptying ourselves, to entering into an embrace of those who are the furthest from us.

It's a call to emulate Jesus in the way he did life.

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