Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Church in Manhattan, and the author of The Reason for God, describes a dynamic in caring for people that I have never seen so well articulated: reciprocal love. Churches in their attempts to ‘reach people’ often develop an ‘us-them’ approach that is actually condescending and disrespectful.
Writing in the Church Planter Manual, Keller explains:
Early on we discovered that it was not enough for Christians to feel pity or even just compassion for the city. Staff and leaders had to humbly learn from and respect New York City and its people. Our relationship with the secular, driven, bright, restless people of Manhattan had to be a consciously reciprocal one. We had to see God’s ‘common grace’ in them. We had to learn that we needed them to fill out our own understanding of God and his grace, just as they needed us for the same. We had to be energized and enriched by the city, not just drained by it. Even Jesus so united his heart with the people he ministered to that he needed their friendship.
Read that paragraph again. Did it really say that Jesus united his heart with the people he ministered to? Did he actually like them? Respect them? Wow – even receive something from them? They weren’t just ‘targets’ for his mission, objects of validation for his calling?
Last night at our gathering we looked at the story in Luke 7:36-50, the wild story about the ‘sinful woman’ who crashes the Pharisee’s cookout and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing them over and over again. What a scene! And to beat it all, this woman becomes an incredible example of ‘loving well,’ that is loving Jesus well – to the contrast of Simon, the Pharisee. She loves well because she’s been forgiven much.
There is so much in the story, but I’ve never thought much about Jesus’ experience of her love. I’m afraid that my Christology errs towards the divinity side of the equation, and I don’t imagine Jesus having emotions or real human experience. HE WAS BLOWN AWAY!
Blown away by Simon’s brush-off, but more blown away by the love he received. The respect he showed the woman is remarkable. He received love from her. She wasn’t just a target of his mission – she was an expression of the mission by her own love and extravagant display. Awesome!
If we can be the kind of Jesus-followers that actually like and respect those who seem far from God – incredible things will happen. If we can expect to learn essential truths about God from those who seem most far away – we have a good chance of not being a ‘Simon.’