Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus...
Paul (Philippians 2:4-5)
Over the summer I work out of an office in the school our church meets at. They have empty space when school isn’t in session, so they graciously share it with me. I love the chance to form friendships with the year round staff, since we see each other daily all summer long.
One of the custodians who does a great job keeping the school spotless is primarily a Spanish speaker. I am (very) primarily an English speaker. Over the weeks, we’ve gotten into a habit of greeting each other. It’s very simple. I’ll walk in and see him in the hallway.
I’ll wave and say “¡Hola!”
He’ll look back and respond, “Hi!”
It’s funny. I use his primary language to greet him, and he uses my primary language to greet me. Neither of us uses our most natural language, choosing instead to make it just a little easier on the other guy. I’ve never made much of this very simple interaction until I started thinking about it today. Whether or not we realize it, what we are doing is a beautiful metaphor for how Jesus taught his disciples to engage with the world around us.
These days, the assumption is that for understanding and love to occur, everyone has to come our way. They have to see things from our perspective or we get frustrated at them. The prevailing attitude is that in order to find common ground…. the other person must do the work. This happens spiritually, culturally, and politically. I’ll give you a moment to consider what happens when everyone thinks that it's someone else’s job to take the first step.
The way of Jesus, however, is upside down. It always has been, and it always will be. Jesus teaches us to move toward the other, not demand that the other move toward us. Jesus teaches us that in order to show compassion, we seek to understand and meet people where they are. We enter their story, rather than first requiring them to enter ours. This is particularly difficult for those of us who are part of a historically dominant culture, because we don’t even realize how much we require others to come our way first.
Jesus reveals this "I’ll move first” commitment through the content of his teachings and his example of leaving the temple and synagogue to heal and teach where marginalized people were (Gentiles, the disabled, and women would not have been permitted in the inner religious courts). But it’s also revealed in the incarnation itself. There’s a divide between the human and the divine. So the divine moved toward the human.
John proclaims that the word “became” flesh (John 1:14) . It’s the only time in the Bible where God “becomes” anything. It’s extraordinary. He became like us, in order to join us and reveal God’s heart. In Mark, the first phrase used to describe why Jesus choose the twelve disciples was so that “they might be with him” (3:14). God wanted to be with people so much that he came their way and entered their world, their culture, their language, and their lives. Amazing. The first act was movement toward. That would lead to the ultimate act of reconciliation between.
My friend and I both desire to move toward the other. What if that was one of the marks of Christ followers across all our lives? What if we took Paul’s encouragement more seriously to imitate Jesus by putting others first? I imagine some things would change…
We’d ask to hear the views of others.
We’d seek to compassionately understand the story that forms each person.
We’d be willing to be less comfortable personally if it created comfort for someone else.
Let’s do it. Speak someone else’s language today, and watch God open new doors.
Jesus, help me take the first step toward another today, so that I might reveal your love.