Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Missional Outreach—Jesus Style

So much of the ministry of Jesus happened in the ordinary stuff of life, eating, walking, sharing life with friends. In Matthew's Gospel, he records his own initiation to life with Jesus:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” —Matthew 9:9-13

I wonder what Jesus saw in Matthew that would make him a good choice to be a part of the twelve. I wonder if Matthew wondered the same thing. After all, he was at his place of work, which spoke of his allegiance with the Roman government, which of course meant that he was viewed by ardent Jews to be an outcast, a traitor, or a "sinner." But Jesus chose Matthew and then he ate in his home, along with others like him. Of course, to eat with people meant that Jesus embraced those people, refusing to require them to change before he offered them fellowship.

As I reflect on this passage, my imagination goes to random conversations over food that Jesus shared with this group. I wonder what they said. Did they laugh? Did they tell stories? What did Jesus say to them? Formerly I assumed that Jesus would have been highly purposeful in his conversations and would have steered the talk to some kind of sermonizing. After all, this story is one of the few that we have about what Jesus did. So it must have been significant. 

But what if it was different? In cultures like this, a shared meal would have lasted for hours. There would have been lots of stories and conversations. It would have been very normal for Jesus to chime in and add his point of view without having to be intentional or purposeful. All he had to do was engage the people in the room, to be present with them and show interest in them. 

Evidently it worked, at least it did for Matthew. 

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