It’s easy enough to point to the moments when being the church has most definitely not meant being Jesus. I don’t mean to lay them all out here, or debate them. There’s no room for that. Nor should it be necessary.
It would be easy, too, to suggest that religion, as a structure, and the institutionalization of that structure are contributing factors to the manner in which power has been wielded, over and against people. Easier still to say that’s history and we need to move forward.
Except it’s not all history, it’s now. And even if it were, it’s a legacy which is ours now and what we do with it is our life and our legacy for the future.
You’ve likely heard all this before. I’m not saying anything new, just saying it again. And again.
Among all the pictures you might find framed or posted on a wall in a church, especially in a church school room, you’re most likely to find this classic: Jesus, seated, with a child on his knee, another trying to climb up, surrounded by little children. He’ll be relaxed and smiling and, in the background, you might see a couple of disciples looking bemused or even a little annoyed.
It’s a moment referenced by Matthew, Mark and Luke. People are bringing children to Jesus to be blessed and the disciples try to stop them and send them away. Jesus is indignant (perhaps too kind a word) and tells them to let the children come. In Mark, Jesus says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Jesus reminds us of the openness, the wide-eyed wonder and innocence of a child. The desire to learn and grow, without preconceived ideas, prejudices or conditions. Of course, Jesus wants us to be child-like, not child-ish. That’s a challenge for life-hardened adults, as it is, but there’s more. There’s vulnerability.
We must make ourselves vulnerable, as Jesus did, in order to find empathy and connect with others. That’s not about power over others or control or fitting in or even “just getting along.” It’s about being open and available to the life and experience of others. Just. Like. Jesus.
We tell stories of Jesus as if he just lectured/preached/proclaimed and people listened and did what he said and then it’s all good. But I don’t think it happened that way. I think it happened just like the children, with openness, vulnerability and connection. And time. Jesus took the time to listen and connect. Listen first, then act.
But there’s still more here. There’s Jesus, welcoming children and blessing them, caring for them and protecting them, just as he did with all the vulnerable, weak and marginalized people he met. He met their vulnerability with his own, connected with them and valued them as the perfect child of God they are, helping them to be wholly the creation they are meant to be.
It’s not history, it’s now. Let go of the structures that disconnect us. Please be Jesus.