More than Just a Piece of Pizza
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
Believers spend a lot of time focusing on the death of Christ, which is great because his death is important. When we focus too much on one aspect of anything though, we overlook other valuable pieces. Jesus didn’t just die for us. He lived for us too. He was 100% God and 100% man, which means that he did everything that we do every day, except he did it much better than any of us ever will. I too often overlook the fact that God himself literally wrapped himself up in skin and walked around just like we do. He had to eat, drink, sleep, find clothes to wear, and even go to the bathroom. He laughed, cried, sympathized, empathized, and got frustrated with how the world around him worked. That is an amazing thing. That means he gets it because he lived it.
It’s important for us to focus on the life of Jesus because he set an excellent example for how we should live our lives. He could have taken on flesh and hung out in the temples where he was probably most comfortable. He would have been the best of the best when it came to being any priest or Pharisee, and he would have been respected throughout all the land because of his knowledge, power, and authority. He wouldn’t even have had to take the time to get training to become a Pharisee because he already knew all he needed to know. He didn’t do that though. He took the most unconventional, least honoring, and arguably most challenging path to walk through his 33 short years on earth. Instead of spending all of his time on top, where he would have fit in excellently, he made a choice to spend all of his time at the bottom.
Life at the bottom is challenging but beautiful. It’s where all of the suffering drains into a cesspool of pain and discomfort. People rarely invite suffering into their lives, but it sneaks in anyway. For some people, tragedy strikes and life continues spiraling downwards until they feel like they have nothing left. These people are what Jesus calls “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). For some reason, these are also the people Jesus deliberately decided to spend most of his time with. The disciples were fishermen and tax collectors, which were not the most honorable or spiritual professions of the time period. He physically touched lepers despite the fact that they were considered to be unclean and anybody who touched them was stigmatized in the same way. He initiated a conversation with an adulterous Samaritan woman, and he let a prostitute wash his feet with her hair. Maybe Jesus spent all of this time with these people because he saw beyond the cesspool that’s on the surface and into the cleansing spring that lies just below it.
Maybe we’re missing something. It feels really good to give somebody a meal, even if it’s just a piece of pizza. At the end of the day, we can go home to our families and talk to them about the pain and suffering that people are going through, and even talk about the beautiful resilience that those same people show through rising above their circumstances. We can feel good because we consider ourselves to be a part of that process of helping that person rise above their difficulties. But the unfortunate reality is that person is still going to their home on the street, just waiting for the next kindhearted person to hand them a sandwich or sit down with them for some small talk.
Jesus left us with a radical example to follow. He left his comfortable position to walk alongside a group of twelve guys who never quite understood what he was talking about. He didn’t just walk with the least of these; he became one of the least of these. What would it look like if we invited every person that we gave a free meal to at a soup kitchen into our house to eat dinner with our families? What would it look like if we offered them a bed to sleep in, or let them borrow our car so they could get to the grocery store? What would happen if we listened and observed long enough to develop the ears to hear and the eyes to see the beauty of the grace of God that pools up in the lowest places?
Maybe it’s time we start actually following Jesus into the places of pain and suffering so that we can see how beautifully the Spirit is moving in those situations. Maybe we should stop putting so much stock in all of our stuff and realize the importance of other human beings that God puts in our paths. Giving money, food, and other resources is relatively simple. If I make time to volunteer at a soup kitchen, the only thing I’m giving up is the time that I could have spent watching Netflix before I go to sleep. If I share a meal with somebody, the only thing I’m giving up is lunch that I could have eaten as leftovers the next day. When we put those things into perspective, they begin to lose their meaning. All that’s left is a feel-good story to tell our friends about when it’s over.
True change happens in relationship. Relationships allow us to move into the messiness and suffering of each other’s lives, and through that, we learn how to love one another truly. Jesus lived it. He had wept with Mary and Martha before he healed their brother Lazarus (John 11:35). He stood next to an adulterous woman and stopped a crowd of religious leaders from punishing her according to the Law (John 8:1-11). He forgave Peter after he denied him three times before he was murdered on the cross, along with the rest of the disciples who stood by and watched while their friend suffered deeply (John 20:22-23, Luke 24:46-49). Jesus was constantly in pursuit of a relationship with others, and the stories in Scripture that have the most impact are not the ones where he heals somebody and then walks away. The most powerful stories are the ones where Jesus enters into the joy and suffering of others in relationship.
Maybe we should follow him there.