GO CROSS BOUNDARIES, LISTEN DEEPLY, AND LIVE LIKE JESUS
Part of a series on The Way of Love.
By Jerusalem Greer
As Jesus went to the highways and byways, he sends us beyond our circles and comfort, to witness to the love, justice, and truth of God with our lips and with our lives. We go to listen with humility and to join God in healing a hurting world. We go to become Beloved Community, a people reconciled in love with God and one another.
GO — from The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
— Luke 19:5-7
Growing up a preacher’s kid I spent a lot of time with church people, so it will come as no surprise, then, after hearing my name, that adults of all ages, but especially the grandfatherly sort, loved to serenade me by singing “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing!” at the top of their lungs no matter where we found ourselves standing. However, once my sister Judea was born, the song was often replaced by a frequent teasing question: “Wait, do you also have a brother named Samaria? Or The Ends of the Earth?,” to which I would give them my best side eye and say in a quite superior voice, “Those don’t start with the letter J.”
Beyond that childhood interaction, I never gave Samaria or The Ends of the Earth much thought. But life is funny about bringing even the most random tidbits full circle. In 2018, I was hired as a consultant by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s evangelism team to give form to several resources and workshops, creating a curriculum that would eventually become known as Evangelism 101. As I sifted through all the exercises and materials, I found myself looking at a graphic that showed three concentric circles: they were labeled, from center on outward, Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. The white space that was left around the outer ring was titled The Ends of the Earth. I had to laugh. Apparently, the time had come to think about Samaria and The Ends of the Earth after all.
That circle graphic is part of an exercise titled All Means All: Getting to Know your Neighbors Near and Far, which was designed to help folks begin to identify and consider the people who live within their own homes, neighborhoods, communities, regions, and beyond, and then to reflect on the following questions for each group: What is God up to in their midst? How can I build relationships with the people and communities I’m discovering? What are their needs and longings? How can I bless and love them? What are my needs and longings? How could they bless me? If Jesus met this person or group, what would he say or do?
After two years of leading this exercise, I have learned that people have a fairly easy time answering the questions for Jerusalem (immediate family, best friends, church family) and Judea (one’s neighborhood, kid’s school, workplace), but when it gets to Samaria (the margins of one’s community; groups, cultures, and generations with whom one does not have relationship, or from whom one or one’s church have been alienated), and The Ends of the Earth (those beyond one’s community — one’s state, country, the world-at-large, whose wellbeing is not often considered, but whose lives are connected through a variety of economic and political systems), the questions become a little more challenging, especially the questions that ask: What are my needs and longings? How could they bless me?
Part of what it means to truly know others is to also be truly known by these “others.” In this action, there is a reciprocity involved that moves us beyond our comfort and into authentic relationship — the kind of relationship where our needs and longings are no longer politely hidden, the kind of relationship where we risk vulnerability.
Which begs the question, what does this part of “Go” — of knowing and being known — actually look like, especially in Samaria or The Ends of the Earth?
As an example, I submit to you the story of Zacchaeus. Here is a story of a grown man, a professional man, a man “short of stature” who climbed a tree in public to see over a crowd. Talk about vulnerability. But if you reread this story, notice that it isn’t just Zacchaeus who takes a risk. “When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’” Jesus, the one everyone came to see, reveals both a desire to know Zacchaeus, and a desire to be known by him. “I must stay at your house,” Jesus says. In this sentence we witness Jesus’s desire to know and be known, a desire so great that it breaks convention, and risks public mockery.
Over and over in the gospels, we see Jesus’ willingness to show his whole self to others, and to let go of impression management behaviors for the sake of love. In fact, as we look at his very first miracle — that whole turning water to wine business — what we see is someone who has to choose between continuing to play it safe — flying under the radar — or letting go and allowing their very complicated self to be known. Thankfully for us and the world, Jesus chose to be known, a choice we see him make repeatedly through the remainder of his ministry. From exhaustion, to anger, to sadness, to responding to criticism, to loving the wrong people, to being willing to change his mind (not to mention a public execution), Jesus shows us that great vulnerability is often required to witness to the love, justice, and truth of God with both our lips and our lives.
In our Baptismal Covenant, not only do we promise to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we also promise to “respect the dignity of every human being.” What is more loving or respectful than allowing oneself to be vulnerable? What shifts the tables of power more than to say to another human being, “You are worthy of me letting my guard down”?
Of course, learning to let ourselves be known can be a humbling and embarrassing experience, and we are going to make mistakes. But, as my friend and author Shannan Martin says, “There’s a difference between being too scared to do hard things and doing hard things scared.” Part of practicing the spiritual discipline of Go is being willing to do hard things scared in order to both intimately know people who are different from us and to be intimately known by them ourselves. It is to choose to follow Jesus’ lead and learn to release control of the narrative, crossing the boundaries that position us as experts and rescuers, and to join our neighbors as we really are, people with longings and needs, hungers and desires, lots of questions and too few answers.
Thankfully, Go, like all the Way of Love practices, is just that — a practice. And just as no one expects a sixth-grade trumpet player to be ready to share the stage with Wynton Marsalis after one lesson, neither are we expected to be at Jesus-level vulnerability after reading one article or engaging in one Beloved Community book group. But we are expected to practice. Which is why it is best to go ahead and embrace the reality that as we practice, we will say the wrong thing. We will probably have many of our assumptions smashed. During our going and risking, our faces might turn red, our words may get twisted, and we are going to probably have to get good at saying “I was wrong” or even perhaps even worse “I don’t know.” But I believe that this is what honoring the dignity of all people often looks like: it looks like going to listen and learn with humility in order to join God’s work in a hurting world, again and again.
What do you love? What have you lost? Where does it hurt? What do you dream? If you are looking for a way to strengthen your Go muscles, please consider From Many, One: Conversations Across Difference. For those of us who are feeling some trepidation about where and how to begin or expand our going practice, this resource and these questions are a beautiful way to begin engaging that vulnerability muscle, and to develop listening skills as a participant and a guest — as someone who is willing to risk what it will take to both know and be known — for the sake of love in the world.
Jerusalem Greer is the staff officer for evangelism for the Episcopal Church in the Office of the Presiding Bishop. She is a member of the Way of Love creation and leadership team and serves on Episcopal Relief & Development Council of Advice. Jerusalem has authored two books, A Homemade Year and At Home in this Life, and a host of curricula. She lives with her family on a hobby farm in rural Arkansas, where they are attempting to live a slower version of modern life. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.