[This post is from my recent newspaper columns published in the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette between July 2016 and June 2017]
“I used to think all Baptist preachers were self-righteous *********, but then I met you so now I think all Baptist preachers are kinda self-righteous *********.”
Hmmm. I guess that’s a compliment? I enjoy those moments – breaking up someone’s stereotype. “Hey, you’re not so bad after all!” Helping someone mature is always a good thing.
My church pays me to read the Jesus stories from the Bible. Ha! I would do that anyway – but don’t tell them that! Recently several of these stories have exploded out of the pages for me.
Luke the gospel-writer was no Roman Imperialist. His birth narrative (aka “the Christmas Story”) is a subversive account of a baby messiah more potent than the mighty Caesar. Yet Luke includes a story about a Centurion who, apparently, is the only person in the gospel who truly understands who Jesus is.
Similarly, there is a Samaritan – and a woman – who encounters Christ at the water cooler (Samaritans, incidentally, were the theological enemies of the Jews). But after her conversation with Jesus, it is this woman who, unlike any one else in the gospels, runs home and tells everyone that she met the Messiah.
And don’t forget our favorite wee-little-man Zacchaeus. He looks different, steals from people and is a traitor who works for the occupying enemy. Yet he ends up being described as a true “son of Abraham.” Stunning praise from the Son of God.
What do these stories have in common? They all highlight exceptions. Occupying soldiers, religious enemies and traitorous crooks might be easy to despise, but the gospels reveal people in these groups to possess beautiful, world-changing faith.
What’s my point? In my years on this planet I have never seen my fellow citizens at each other’s throats like we are now. Sadly, our country has become highly polarized and every form of media is filled with sweeping stereotypes and hateful generalizations. Every day we hear stories of hurtful words, painful actions and even gunfire in our wars against people on the other side of the aisle.
But whatever group you despise remember this: there are always exceptions. As the gospel stories remind us, there is always someone in “that” group who possesses a beautiful, world-changing love for God.
I told a twenty-something friend the other day, “You have more in common with a 17th-century Somalian grandmother who loves Jesus than you do with a white, twenty-something Arkansan male who does not love Jesus.” A common love for Christ creates the deepest of connections that transcend culture, age, economics, education, heritage and even politics.
The gospel stories tell us to be careful. Because you never know who you might find in that group you despise. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are everywhere, even in the strangest places. And they are the greatest friends we can ever hope to have.