By Merv Budd
If we were to take some time to discover how Jesus built bridges into people’s lives we would discover that the process is relatively simple and easily imitated. Consider the stories of Jesus meeting Levi (Mark 2:14-16) and Jesus meeting Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-7). While the stories are different, we find some common principles among them.
Notice that the ones that Jesus dealt with were Levi and Zacchaeus. They were not left as anonymous people; in Jesus’ time they were called “sinners.” And very often when we talk about building bridges to people who are not Christians, the names we use can become a barrier—if for no one else, then ourselves. How we label and name those we are trying to reach can create walls in our mental maps of reality.
We end up thinking of people as those who are in and those who are out. Those who are good and those who are bad. And how we think of others will influence us in how we treat them. What if instead of thinking of Christians and non-Christians those who are in the kingdom and those who are not, what if we thought of people simply as friends who are on a journey with us.
What we call people, not only when we are with them, but how we call them in our minds, can’t help but be reflected in how we act towards them and treat them. I get the sense from Jesus that even though He Himself was superior to all, He did not look down on others or treat them as inferior or as contemptible—even when He may not have agreed with them. How are we doing with that in our attitudes and thinking towards those of other faiths like Muslims or Sikhs? How about people who promote that which we might disagree with, like a person of the gay community or an atheist?
Until we change our way of thinking, to think of all people as being on a journey with us, we may not be able to show them the way when they find they are lost.
What else can we learn from Jesus’ encounter with Levi and Zacchaeus? I think if we were to dwell in the story for a while we’d probably discover that it first started with Jesus noticing these two men and stopping to acknowledge them. I wonder how often there are people that God has brought into our path and we’re too busy to notice, or though we notice we don’t take time to acknowledge them.
I find it interesting that Jesus dines—in fact, parties—with both of them at their houses. Now you might argue that we are told that Jesus had no place to lay His head and so technically He couldn’t invite them to His place. But I would like to suggest that really what Jesus is doing is building relationship on their home turf. He’s the one who is putting Himself in the awkward position.
I find that far too often we tend to limit our evangelistic efforts to simply inviting people to come to a church service, and not that we shouldn’t do that, but for many people church is foreign, it’s weird, it’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable and so what Jesus did was take away that discomfort so that He might build into the relationship where they felt at home.
If we continued to study, we’d probably notice that it was Jesus who takes the initiative to invite the men into relationship. That is, Jesus ran the risk of being rejected. We’d probably make some comments around the fact that Jesus’ own reputation was smeared just by hanging out with those types of people, but He wasn’t concerned about defending His own reputation.
What are the lessons we learn from Jesus in building relational bridges to other people? Here’s 5:
- How you think about others will determine how you treat them.
- It starts with stopping to notice people.
- Enter others’ worlds before inviting them to enter yours.
- Take the initiative.
- Ignore the criticism of others regarding your friendships.