WELCOMING – Chapter 8

Hello, Peter! I almost could not wait to come back and talk. I feel so close to Jesus when we are talking together!

I have told you before that our times together feed my journey with the Lord, as well! And I experienced something today that has me thinking and ready to share!

I heard children’s voices. I don’t know how. It could have come through the bars from the outside somehow, but it actually seemed that they were somewhere nearby in the prison. I thought, “What an odd place for children to be gathering!” It was that thought that reminded me how Jesus was so open to having children around as he taught.

Weren’t children a distraction? Sometimes they make noise, or talk out at the wrong times, or even ask questions that can be inappropriate!

Well, that was what we disciples thought as more and more people would bring children to Jesus for a blessing. Once, when we actually started asking the parents not to do it, Jesus stopped us. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

This may seem like such a simple thing. He was saying that those children were examples to us as disciples regarding how to receive and be a part of the kingdom. As always, a lot to think about. Children can have such a trust in the leadership, care and support of their parents. I still have much to learn regarding this as a model for my walk with the Lord, but I know that this should be my goal.

I guess that I understand that. I, too, have much to learn regarding faithful trust and obedience. It still seems like those children could be an intrusion when something really important was being taught.

That perspective has a wide significance as to why I think that there is much to consider here. Jesus welcomed intrusions. He cared for people who we would have thought did not deserve his attention. He spent time with people that could have been interpreted by some as a waste. Yet, those encounters so often became investments in changed lives.

Have you noticed in our conversations over these weeks that Jesus listened to, healed and lifted up people who were looked down upon for one reason or another? Jesus accepted the needs and interests of Roman soldiers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and others just the same as anyone else. He was even willing to reach out and touch those with leprosy.

For me, life seemed easier when I could just prejudge who the good people were and the bad people were. In those days that approach fed my sense of self-worth. I would use it to know who I was better than. I am sure that I never would have expressed it that way back then. I am not sure I even would have easily had a conversation like this back then. But, Jesus happened in my life!

Now, when I am at my best, people matter to me. Each person. His or her journey matters. His or her hurts matter. His or her aspirations matter. Jesus did this to me. His love, his gracious interest in who I am and acceptance of me for what I am changed me. His forgiveness for who I am changed me!

Now as each person enters my day and my life I try to listen. How is my walk with God intersecting with their lives? How can I be a good neighbor into their challenges and hopes? Is this a quick interaction or will it be an ongoing relationship? How can I share the love of the Lord into their life journey? That seemed to me to be what Jesus did with each person that he encountered.

That’s a lot to try and be and do! So, that is what you have been doing in our conversations. What is it that the Lord has shared regarding me and you and this time together?

Well, I have been given a sense of your hunger to learn. I have seen your commitment, coming through this prison to me week after week. Your questions are honest and your answers are honest. You want to grow closer to Jesus. I think that you have been careful to encourage me to talk. You have not revealed a lot about who you are. You know that I could be gone before the next time we would meet and you want to make sure that I share as much with you as possible in these times.

I’m not really hiding much about myself, Peter. I am pretty much a regular person who has recently been inspired by the Savior. Through my own interactions with other Christians and our talks, I know that there are aspects of who I have been that must die. I know that there are aspects of who I am that are uniquely of God and need to come alive – to be redeemed, strengthened and blessed for my life journey with Jesus. I get disappointed in my weaknesses at times. I get too proud of some of my accomplishments at times. Those are all pretty regular things it seems to me as a new Christian.

There is a lot of wisdom in that brief analysis. It is not much different than what I would be able to say and I have been walking with Jesus for over 30 years.

What I have learned is that each person has a similar story. Each person has some mix of hurts and blessings, although some of those hurts are much deeper than what many have to experience. Each person has gifts for the work of the kingdom and it is important for those gifts to be enhanced and expressed. Also, some people are blessed with an abundance of gifts and those, too, are, in a different way, challenges to be handled faithfully. Jesus said, “To whom much is given much is required.”

Thus, there is a mix of commonality and uniqueness to be learned and loved with each person. Jesus was amazing with this. Each person mattered. Every situation and encounter were faith events.

Now, I do not mean that Jesus overwhelmed each conversation with kingdom talk. Many times, people really were surprised by how down to earth Jesus was. They could even be disappointed because he did not meet their preconceived ideas of who this rabbi would be and what he would do. They were disappointed by the mix of people with whom he would spend time. They would be disappointed by what he would say or emphasize. For example, they would judge how he handled aspects of the Sabbath or other religious practices.

In fact, in so many ways, this mix of disappointments are what took him to the cross. He wasn’t religious enough for the religious. He wasn’t radical enough for the radicals. He wasn’t triumphant enough for the triumphalists. He wasn’t Roman enough for the imperialists. But, he was expendable enough for all of them and dangerous enough to all of them that he could be eliminated.

But, for those of us whose hearts were touched, who believed in him, who followed him, he was God’s Messiah, the Christ.

Our conversation today began because of children. Jesus welcomed children when others would have sent them away. Jesus welcomed all people, and thus each person, into his journey. Jesus had time for each person. Jesus told stories in which Samaritans were the heroes. Jesus had dinner at tax collectors’ homes. Jesus touched lepers and also had late night conversations with Pharisees. Jesus took healing into the homes of Roman soldiers as well as synagogue presidents.

Thus, you can know that you matter to Jesus. You matter. You are loved and forgiven. Your gifts and abilities are known, appreciated and encouraged for your own growth as the unique person that you are. Jesus does this. It is God’s mission in the world – the way that God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done. And, the closer you are to Jesus, the more all of this develops and grows!

Thank you so much, Peter! I needed to hear that. But, I also need now to go. I will be back again next week and hope that the Lord will still have you here to talk with me.

Go in peace!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Why do you think that Jesus welcomed the little children to come to him? What can the example of children teach us about how we follow Jesus as disciples?
  2. Who are the people or even groups of people that you are encountering in your daily life that you just do not see and with whom you do not even consider interacting in any productive way? Who would be people that you would avoid because it might affect your reputation, maybe even with your Christian community?
  3. What are ways that you could strengthen your ability to welcome new people into your daily life?
  4. What are ways that you appreciate about how Jesus has welcomed you into the kingdom?
  5. Who have been examples in your life of people who welcomed you and made you feel included in their lives?

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