Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. […]
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.
Luke 10:30, 33-34
There are places in nature where two worlds collide. Rivers meet oceans, marshes meet forests. Two ecosystems that are quite different find themselves sharing the same space.
And that’s where the magic happens.
These places of collision are called ecotones. The name literally means a place where “two ecologies are in tension.” What’s so special about them? Ecotones are where the greatest concentrations of life in the natural world are found. They are where living things thrive the most. When the two areas meet, new characteristics emerge that are not found individually in either system, allowing new species to flourish.
The Jesus life is a life of intersecting boundaries. A few weeks ago I walked the borderlands of Mexico and the United States, hearing so many stories of people from a vastly different world than me. But when the opportunity came for our worlds to collide, even briefly, there was beautiful life. Choosing to engage with another culture opened the door to seeing God in new ways.
We live in a world badly in need of cultural ecotones. We like to stay among the people who look, think, act, and talk like us. But that isn’t working. We become isolated from those who are different from us. Even those with whom we disagree would bring forth beautiful life if we learned to serve and engage with one another.
In the famous good samaritan story that Jesus told, the radical part was that the Samaritan who served the Jewish victim was from a neighboring culture that Jews deeply disliked. A Jewish person having compassion on a Jewish person was nice. But a Samaritan showing kindness to a Jewish person? That was where life explodes. We can only imagine what may have happened had the story continued. Maybe they never saw each other again. Today, though, you can imagine that those two would be facebook friends and grab coffee when they were in town and probably FaceTime with their kids. Maybe they would help generations of families and friends break down stereotypes and judgments about Jews and Samaritans.... all because of that one collision, where someone chose to move toward the other (at least, that’s what I hope would happen today).
Perhaps the prophetic witness of our generation will look less like shouting, and more like sitting. Perhaps we will reveal the love of Jesus by listening to people different from us, and loving them. We will find that when we engage with people, cultures, and perspectives that are challenging, new forms of life will emerge. But we have to stay there long enough to let the magic happen. We have to endure the awkwardness. We have to ask good questions. And beyond it all, we have to love with an authenticity that is beyond question. Jesus can give us that if we ask.
What cultural or relational ecosystem will you be willing to enter into this week? Consider starting a conversation with someone vastly different from you, or serving someone you disagree with. Don’t be surprised if Jesus brings surprising new forms of life.
Jesus, help me find the life that comes from kindness and service to those different from me.