Have you ever thought about the crowds that gathered around Jesus?
I know that until this week, I really kind of hadn't. At all.
The story we're reading, the story we're letting soak into our hearts isn't the story of the crowds; it's the story of the Savior. But now that I've brought it up, don't you just wonder?
Here was this Man who brought these mish-mash, hodgepodge, ragtag groups of people together and yet, so few times do we hear about disagreements or disruptions or disgust of the people around Him. The crowds gathered around Him weren't formal. They weren't polite. They were pushing, shoving, screaming, clamoring to get closer to Him, and most likely had one of just about every person you could imagine:
They probably had the smelly guy. And we know there were a few questionable women around (the sinner, the prostitute, the woman on her sixth husband, the one with the bleeding issue). Screaming kids. Arrogant types. Quiet types. Carpenters and businessmen. Tax collectors and teamsters, or whatever would pass for teamsters in the labor of the day. There were people who probably showed up and said, "Oh. Joe's here. Well, I guess I'll go home." Because, of course, they didn't like Joe. People who thought they should be closer to the inner circle. People who claimed they were the inner circle, even though according to our current gospels, they weren't even close. People who had honest stories about past encounters and people who were anxiously awaiting their first glimpse of the teacher. And of course, people who were making stories up to sound like they had been a bigger part of anything than they ever were. Depressed people. Sick people. Joyous people. Contented people. People who would follow Him anywhere; people just passing by. People who wanted to be there. And people dragged there by friends. Guys with pure motives and seeking hearts. Men with deceit within them just trying to bait a trap.
All of these different types of people, these different professions and lifestyles and personalities, and these groups kept coming together and not killing each other and not doing anything that detracted from the narrative Jesus was living among them; when judgment or disgust at the presence of one individual or another did come up, He simply drew it into His story and used it to prove His point.
That He is love.
It just amazes me that we don't hear more of the whisperings. You know there had to be some; probably a lot. There are still those whisperings today. What's he doing here? I can't believe she had the guts to show up. Will someone get those screaming kids out of the sanctuary? Scorn. Disgust. Disruption. When certain people show up, it's just there.
That's been true in my life. People I don't want to be around. People who I know don't want to be around me. People offended at my presence, and people whose presence I have been offended at. You, too? Start making your list.
This division among the people starts young. I can remember as an elementary school student, straight out of the gates, we sat around and talked amongst ourselves about kids we didn't want to be in a class with the next year. Like the kid who magically always had bright green snot hanging out of his nose and never seemed to notice. Or the boy who threw up every year. Every. Year. Having those kids around would ruin our experience, we decided; they detracted from our otherwise-pleasant learning process. You couldn't help but contemplate boogers with that kid in your class. You'd never hear a word the teacher said!
Yet here are these groups of people, these crowds around Jesus, and none of the writers tell us of these whispers. A few, yes - the sinful woman comes to mind. (And how she just walked right in to someone else's house and headed straight to Jesus amazes me; more on that perhaps next week.) But for the most part, nothing. But think about the guy who spies the tax collector across the room. Think about yourself when you see that person at church that grates against your every nerve, that lives contrary to your every philosophy. Think about the way you fill up with self-righteousness if it seems they're getting anything at all. Think about how you can't hear anything else but the thoughts in your own mind in that moment as you try to figure out what right in the world that person has to be in the same place as you. (We've all done it; don't pretend you haven't.)
Then think about the story you're missing.
There's this thing grander than any of our petty differences, and it's happening right before our eyes. It's the story of Love and the grace of God and the narrative He's writing right now. Can you imagine being in the room with the sinful woman? Every person in there who couldn't push past their own self-righteousness missed the words that we get to read - they missed the way Christ honored her. The guy somewhere near the back, growing impatient and unable to figure out what the hold-up was and why they were stopped so long up there at the cemetery and fuming about all of these people who stood between him and the Lord...wouldn't have even seen the formerly-naked-crazy man clothed and conversational as they finally passed by. We get this one-track mind about what's right and what's our right and we get to this place where other people are just in the way. And then we miss the story.
I'm thinking about all of this because grandma's here. Actually, she's been here for several days and will be for a few more, and she's staying with me. Aside from her cooking, what I love about grandma being here is that it brings the whole family in. Everybody wants to see her while she's here, as she is the only one of her generation that lives out-of-state, and so her brothers and sisters (she's one of eight), her nieces and nephews (uncountable), her grandchildren (there are 6 here, 10 if you count the four cats that her childless daughter calls children), her great-grandchildren (at least 6), countless generations extending from cousins and great-nieces and -nephews and however many branches of the family tree you can draw, as well as friends from times past - everyone gathers and drops by and stays awhile to see grandma. Since she's staying with me, I get to see them, too.
It's just really cool. And it gets me thinking about people and how we come together...and more than that, why we stay apart. This family, at its nuclear and extended levels, is just like any other. There are problems. And feuds. And handfuls of individuals who aren't talking to one another at this time or that. And arguments. And conflicts of schedule. I mean, a lot of these people are people that I haven't seen since...well, since the last time grandma was here. For no other reason than that there's simply not that thing bringing us together so powerfully as it is this week. (And I resolve to change that, because these people make me make sense to myself...and I gotta keep them around.)
Then she's back and everybody kind of draws together again. Yes, there are still the holdouts who wouldn't get into this story for anything, members of the crowd who won't come because that person might be here. But for those of us that do gather, none of that matters. We all get here and there's this bigger story. This one that we're telling where the whispers don't matter, and when they sneak their way in, they're just a chance for love and a way to weave that into our bigger story. It makes me sad to think about the people we're missing, the relatives who aren't around this table - because this is our story and how much cooler would it be if they would come and be a part of it.
Then I think about how much better we'd do at getting the world to see His story in our churches if we could cut out the whispers. Don't you get that to the unbelieving world - to those looking in - even to those seeking - we've made our whispers His story? Don't you see how the way our self-righteousness comes in and we pull ourselves out pushes the world away from the greatest narrative in all Creation? There will always be the whispers, but this isn't our story. It's His. It's messy. There's pushing and shoving and screaming. But Christ is that guy. He is that one guy, that one central hub that has the ability to draw everyone together around Him. He's grandma. When we all pull together around that, do any of these petty differences matter? Is it worth pushing people away from this story?
I'm telling you - our story would be so much cooler if everyone could come and be a part of it.