Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Ends of the Earth

Jesus confined His ministry to Jerusalem and Galilee (and roughly the surrounding area), without apologizing for the regions of the world to which God had not called Him in this particular earthly mission. He never said He felt led or drawn to go to any other region; He never felt guilty for not working His miracles among the far reaches of the world. 

This is a difficult idea for many of us, particularly as we sing, "He's got the whole world in His hands." We know that Jesus was given for the world, but therein lies the subtle difference - He was given for the world, but He was also given to His particular community. It's how we get these incredible Gospel stories that take place in real cities and towns, on real seashores, with real persons involved and invested in them. 

But that doesn't mean the rest of the world just misses out on the whole Jesus thing. Of course, we know that is not true. Just a short time after Jesus left His community, Peter and Paul set out to minister to theirs, and the places where Jesus was not able (or called) to go now had men who were sent specifically there. 

And you know? I think Paul did more good in the far reaches of the world than Jesus could have. It's not because Paul was greater than Jesus; not in any way at all! But it is because Paul was given these reaches of the world; they were on his heart. These were his people, in the same way that the characters in the Gospels were Jesus'. 

Can you imagine if Jesus had tried to reach the whole world? Can you imagine if the life and ministry of Jesus took on the same mission and scope as not only the Gospels, but the work of Peter and Paul, too? He would have been stretched thin, not stretched out. We would have snippets and snapshots, not stories. There would be no narrative to be rooted in because Jesus Himself would have no roots anywhere; His whole testimony would be travel, not triumph. And by the time He finally comes to the Cross, we look not at a Suffering Servant, but at a weary warrior, a man who has worn Himself out going to the ends of the earth. And for what? It changes everything. 

Herein lies the beauty of the whole thing. Herein lies the lesson for the rest of us. Jesus focused His ministry on His community, on the place He was sent and the persons He was given. He prayed for them. He worked miracles among them. He healed them. He called them. And when the time came, He became a spectacle for them, a sacrifice on their hills. And then those persons, those who lived in the community of Jesus, became the testimony for their own communities. They focused on their places, on their persons. They prayed for them, worked miracles among them, healed them, taught them, shepherded them. And their communities became the testimony for their communities....and so on and so on.

When we read through the New Testament, we see all this interweaving of the communities of the faithful. They knew about each other. They shared letters among each other. They knew each other's persons, to some degree, and they knew each other's struggles. They leaned on one another, even in cases where the majority of them had never met. They were testimonies to one another, everybody in their own place and with their own persons, and we call them, collectively, the church. And we say that the church was some big thing that was going on, but the truth is that the church was (and is) a big thing only by being all of its small things. It is universal only in its locality. It is a community only in the sense of its communities. 

Most of us look at the headlines, at the troubles in our world, and we think we ought to be doing more. We spend so much of our time trying to figure out what to do about Syria. Or Sudan. Or Haiti. Or Russia. Or wherever may be vogue today. But the truth is that most of us struggle with knowing what to do because these are not our persons, they are not our communities. This is not where our hearts beat, and this is not what we have been given. There are, of course, persons who have been given these communities, and we must support and be grateful for them. There are, of course, still Peters and Pauls among us. But most of us? Most of us are not Peters or Pauls. We're just...us.

And we haven't been given the ends of the earth, but just our little corners of it. 

Here....here is where our stories start weaving in. Here is where we pray. Here is where we work miracles. Here is where we heal. Here is where we call. Here is where we become living testimonies, in our own communities, to our own persons, in this very place. And then one day, our communities become testimonies to their communities, and so on and so on, all around the world, until even the furthest reaches should know about this Man given to Galilee for the sake of the world. 

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