I have come to believe that as followers of Jesus we shape our lives according to who we perceive Him to be. If you grew up in the church there are numerous Bible stories and sermons you were exposed to: not to mention those awesome flannelgraph storyboards! If you didn’t grow up in the church, then your perceptions of Jesus were likely formed by portrayals of Him in popular culture, and you probably don’t even know what flannelgraph is. (Ask the church kids, they know.)
But when you read through the gospels for yourself, Jesus is a refreshing figure every time. He is a boundary-crosser, a reputation-risker, and an iconoclast. He doesn’t tolerate racism or sexism; He doesn’t tolerate religious people who say they care about others but really only care for themselves.
And these are character traits and actions that are in short supply in every age of history, including ours. The flow of history is polluted with masses of people who float along with the current, blindly endorsing the most popular ideas of their culture, following the dominant trends, sucking up to people in power, staying clear of “scary” people, and idolizing the rich and famous. None of these practices are unique to our time or our culture and none of these practices are ones Jesus engaged in.
When He’s offered easy opportunities to take earthly power, He does something that we probably wouldn’t: He runs in the opposite direction. When He meets someone of influence, He is far more likely to challenge the content of their lives than He is to plead with them for their support. When He meets someone that He’s not supposed to touch or talk to, He usually talks to them and touches them.
For example, take the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. We see that He employs a very strange evangelistic strategy. He engages in conversation with someone who is from a rival ethnic group, is a woman, and is notoriously immoral! This is quite the unexpected encounter.
Jesus shows a profoundly compassionate, boundary-crossing, suspicion-inducing, reputation-risking love for someone whom, to that point in her life, had probably never been loved by anyone before! From this most unexpected source she receives for the first time real love, real concern, and real compassion.
And what is her response to this? She becomes a witness, an evangelist! She rushes away in excitement to call others to meet him too. And it says “many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” People who were unlikely to experience healing experienced healing because Jesus crossed clear social boundaries in order to present the gospel.
What barriers have you set up for yourself, told yourself you will not cross, that Jesus would likely cross? With whom will you share the gospel? Your neighbor? An adulterer? A gay person? A Muslim?
There is no one that Jesus sees as beyond redemption and reconciliation with God. Not anyone from another country, ethnic group, gender, religion or sexual orientation. In every case where Jesus crosses paths with a reject, an outsider, an outcast, He embraces them. He loves them and has compassion on them.
And this is the kind of profoundly moving, boundary-crossing, suspicion-inducing, reputation-risking love that Jesus calls us to embrace.