Jesus Oriented His Life Around Those Who Were At the Edges
Ten years ago, my family moved from our farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere to a small, kind of shabby neighborhood on what some would consider the wrong side of the tracks. Settling into our new neighborhood placed us near people whose experiences were different from our own. Up to that point, we had only ever lived surrounded by people who looked, lived, and believed exactly as we did. People who reminded us of ourselves.
Suddenly our eyes were being opened to all we had missed out on. We became more curious about what Jesus’ life really looked like. Who did he spend his time with? Who was he near? Paying attention to the details of scripture, it’s clear that Jesus chose to spend his time with those on the lower rungs of popularity and power.
His posse of disciples were mostly average, ordinary, and working-class. He invited himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’s house. He went through Samaria, though Jews were not supposed to, and struck up a revolutionary conversation with the woman he met there changing her life with the power of His proximity. He interacted with leapers, sinful women, the poor, the hated, and the chronically judgmental. The pattern is clear, Jesus oriented his life around those who were at the edges.
Jesus’ Life Shows Us How to Dignify the Disregarded and Exalt the Humble
What I only realized more recently is that the clues were dropped from the very beginning, from his birth – the Incarnation of God. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, the story begins not with Mary and the angel, but with Elizabeth and Zechariah. It begins with community and kinship.
From there we meet Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ parents. Mary was an unwed teenager, a lowly servant in her own words. Displaced from his home from the start, Jesus was born among livestock. The physical lowliness of this story is astonishing. God arrives on Earth in skin. His first sermon is a cry filtering out from an emergency shelter piercing the night.
The shepherds enter the scene with their bushy hair and glaring simplicity. These rough, pasture-dwelling men were painfully aware of their societal rung. “You will recognize him,” the angel told them. They believed and so they went.
Later at the temple, we meet Anna, a perfectly quirky widow (the New Testament’s only named prophetess), and Simeon, an old man who was waiting to die. These two were not spectators to the nativity, they were participants. They recognized the infant as their rescue. They felt and savored and inhaled the Kingdom of God touching the Earth where they stood.
Finally, in the Book of Matthew, we are introduced to the Magi. They were dreamers and interpreters of dreams, some called them royal soothsayers. We remember them as bearing gifts, which they did, but their greatest gift by far arrived as an act of civil disobedience intentionally duping King Herod, whose power was so threatened by this toddler Jesus he wanted him dead. The Magi remind us that in Christ there is no such thing as outsiders. Power is perpetually toppled and dreamers are called wise.
The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a master class on dignifying the disregarded and exalting the humble. It challenges our ideas about what it means to be good. This has deep implications for every Christ follower. At a minimum, it is all the proof we need that Jesus intends us to live very near to the ground, at street level, just as he did. Staying close to those who are suffering, oppressed, and looked down upon. Willing to show up needy ourselves.
The Path to Proximity Means Walking Away from Our Own Comfort
Not all of us will physically move to a different neighborhood, but we are all invited into the Kingdom of God growing wild around us.
Extending Christ-like welcome to those who need it most because as Jeremiah 29 reminds us, our welfare is determined by the welfare of the least among us.
The story of the Incarnation of God is rooted in community right from the start, a web of kinship.
Here’s what that has looked like in my life. A couple of years ago our neighbors invited us to their daughter’s 12th birthday party. As we walked next door, we soon realized we were the only party-goers who didn’t speak Spanish. For the next hour, we connected as best we could mostly by smiling, laughing, and accepting seconds of spicy pozole. It was awkward and wonderful.
When they brought out the cake the room erupted in conversation we couldn’t understand. A moment later they began singing Happy Birthday in English so that we could sing along. They deferred to us. They looked out for us at their own daughter’s birthday party. They didn’t have to do this and we didn’t expect it.
I’ll never forget the feeling of being seen, known, and cared for in such a small but meaningful way. This is the kinship of Jesus.
This is what happens when we stand with one another suffering and celebrating together. Shoulder to shoulder, we suddenly see the world from a different perspective and it changes all of us.
The only path to proximity with those who might not remind us of ourselves is to practice walking away from our own comfort and into tension. This is absolutely where we will experience the true abundant life, the sad and the sweet.
In Matthew 25 Jesus says, “For I was hungry and I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.”
In other words, “I was a single mom and you offered me a free night off. I was new to America and you showed me around town. I was released from jail and you bought me steel-toed boots for my factory job. I was racked with anxiety and you listened without checking your phone. I was in jail and you put money on my books for shampoo and a sports bra.”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “when you do these things my sisters you are doing them for me.”
This story from Shannan Martin is taken from her incredible lesson on The Power of Proximity from Our Equipping Series. You can hear more in the second half of her talk, which is a discussion with Bri Stensrud on how we can get in proximity in our everyday lives: