A little over eight years ago I started writing this blog about greeting people as if they were actually the historical man by the name of Jesus. You know, the Son of Man, Son of God dude from the first century Palestine that so many people still talk about? They amended some great historical scrolls to include him in the divine story of God’s chosen people.
You might know him as Israel’s Messiah, or the guy who rose from the dead, or that freaking weirdo who loved people no matter who they were or what they had done. You might have only heard tales of his miracles or ability to transform human life for the good of all humanity. Or you might know absolutely nothing about him, and well...I’ll address that some other time.
He is Jesus. The Christ. That guy I have dedicated my life to follow in his big, divinely righteous, angelically manicured footsteps. An action I have often questioned my rationale for doing so.
There are days, even long stretches of time where I feel like nothing has changed and it’s all been a colossal waste of time. There are some people you meet that you hope you never run into again. Or people who are just not that into making your day a good one. Those kind of people make me want to throw in the towel and crawl into my own little world. But then I meet someone, that Daniel or Amy or Sage are engaging the divine in me as I search for and welcome the divine in them. It’s in those moments I am reminded how far I’ve come. Practice makes perfect they say. I have yet to reach that goal. But if my practicing Christ-like hospitality has done anything for me, it is that it has kept me from being an asshole a majority of the time.
In those moments where between being present in and forgetting my goal, I both wander and wonder if I‘m in this place because I’m lazy or rebellious, or if because what I am has become so habitual that I don’t actually know I’m doing it. I am hoping the latter but I suspect it’s a little of both.
Intentionally seeing and acknowledging the Divine in people is a good thing for sure. It sets me on a solid course for life; loving people where they’re at and welcoming them without judgment. It takes work to get up the nerve to begin, but once you get started it becomes easier and easier along the way. I’ve discover that the big picture concept of seeing Christ in the other isn’t too hard or difficult when I’m practicing it with strangers, or people I have limited contact with.
Seeing and acknowledging the guy who welcomes me at the gym or the waitress who brings me a plate of food or a fellow dog lover at that park is easy. It doesn’t take much for me to smile, or say a few kind words or have a compassionate ear. The smelly homeless man with a crazy look in his eyes or the woman asking for money at the freeway off-ramp is a little more challenging. They can make me feel uncomfortable, or even a bit guilty for not having anything at the ready to give them. But it’s not too hard to see that they are a part of this world. They too, in all their dirty glory, are made in the imago dei - the image of God. It’s not hard to see and know that God loves them and cares for them just like God loves and cares for you and me. Holding onto that truth has helped me to see the the world through God’s lens and to navigate a pathway of Christ-likeness in their world that removes any shame, guilt, or fear I might have. And believe me when I say, that’s a good thing. It helps keep me humble and grounded 78.6% of the time.
For a lot of humans, dealing with strangers or people who are not like the people they know can bring out all sorts of anxieties. It causes real life stage-fright in the most outgoing people. It can stop the most confident of people dead in their tracks. Ironically, I have come to discover the people who are the hardest for me to see and acknowledge God’s image in are those who are closest to me. The ones who share my DNA, my house and bathroom, my office spaces, and communal spaces. Many of whom I know all too well or they are the ones who also know me all too well. I think everyone could agree that an unhappy spouse or self-absorbed child, an annoying co-worker or a malicious neighbor can make one struggle to show the same kind of kindness as Jesus did - much less be righteous like him by any measure.
I can see and acknowledge my three lovely and amazing children. I can look at their faces and in each one see my own face. If I try I can even see Jesus’ face if Jesus we’re a teenage girl with emotional mood swings. I can see my son and I acknowledge love, joy, goodness, and all that is right in the world. I can see the divine image of God. But I also see shoes everywhere and toilets not flushed and dishes wedges into the couch. It’s not easy Jesus in myself in such places, because it’s hard to do with those we are the most intimate and close to.
That’s why we should always practice it on the strangers among us to make it easier to live it out with our family and friends. By sharing love and kindness and smiles and a helping hand to those we do not know, will help make seeing and acknowledging and loving and forgiving a bit more like breathing when faced with the challenge of a child yelling, “I hate you” only because that’s what teenagers do from time to time as they develop wings of their own.
I believe we are given different types of communities to practice our faith, some easier than others. But in each one, if we look intentionally, we find God reminding us that Christ came to bring us all home. To make us all one family, to share one table (and perhaps one bathroom) with those we know and those we have yet to meet. And it’s all possible because we share one love from the One who loved us first...in spite of ourselves.
Rev. Ian Macdonald is somewhat of a Jesus freak and struggles with trying to be the mirror of Christ in the world. If you see him, be kind. Buy him a coffee. Or better yet, donate to his ministry at newchurchshermanoaks.org so he can continue to show people that there is a better way to live life with love and kindness.