It doesn’t take a lot of theological understanding to imitate Christ in the way He connected with people. Some of Jesus’ most powerful moments in ministry happened not in a service or ceremony, but simply over lunch or dinner.
In Tell It Slant, Pastor Eugene Peterson writes that, “..it should not surprise us to find that hospitality is a prominent theme in the Travel Narrative metaphor that Luke uses to immerse us in a culture and among a people who don’t share the assumptions and practices of Jesus.
Jesus taught in the synagogues and preached in the temple, but settings of hospitality seemed to be Jesus’ venue of choice for dealing with kingdom matters.”
Hospitality is defined as, “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” Whether Jesus was the host (feeding thousands) or the guest in someone’s home, people felt welcomed, accepted and loved by him. He thrived in these opportunities that served as incubators of relationship.
Austin Bonds, Director of Outreach at The Relief Bus, is a master of making friends on the streets.
People are social beings by nature. When we walk into new social situations, we quickly assess and adapt without even giving it much thought. We naturally gravitate towards people who are likeminded. We also gravitate towards that which we desire: beauty, power, control, etc. Jesus seemed to do just the opposite. He was the master of the art of friendship. He knew that simply presenting facts and spiritual truths to unbelievers was inadequate. He knew that the relational component was the key to reaching someone’s heart. In other words, “People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.” It wasn’t so much his strategy as it was his nature to be intimate with others.
In The Top Ten Mistakes leaders Make by Hans Finzel, the author states that “Culture is the shared values and behavior that knit a community together. It’s the rules of the game; the unseen meaning between the lines in the rule book that assures unity.”
Strangely, Jesus breaks many of his cultural rules to follow the heart of God.
Eugene Peterson goes on to say, “In the simple, everyday act of sitting down with others at meals, Jesus aroused enormous hostility. There were rigid rules in the world Jesus lived in that were inviolable. Jesus violated them. There were strong prohibitions against eating with unsavory people-outsiders such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and people who didn’t keep up the appearances of religious propriety (“sinners”). Jesus ate with them.”
What has happened to us as the American church where we have become so knowledgeable and educated in scripture and yet so stunted in our ability to build friendships? This was Jesus’ “evangelism strategy”. Actually it was just his lifestyle. Jesus was a friend to sinners (Luke 7:34) It can’t be that simple can it?
Young people from all over America come out on The Relief Bus to befriend the homeless in NYC.
Jesus truly was a people person who would not let his religious or social culture define him. For an introvert like me, I find this very challenging. Yet I know I need this aspect of the “Jesus life” to grow, mature and be complete in my faith walk. I am stretching myself to build friendships with others not like me, a Muslim man from Afghanistan who runs my local fried chicken place, elderly neighbors, the waiters and waitresses at my local diner, homeless people living in Penn Station. I push myself to build relationship because I know this is what kingdom life is about. I can’t allow my comfort or even my temperament to define me. I’m not very good at it, but I take one baby step at a time. Each time I do it I feel the heart of Christ growing in me.
If we are truly followers of Jesus, it’s time to get over the “us and them” mentality and learn the lost art of friendship.
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