Last week, we took a look at Jesus both/and approach to mission through mapping where he went and where people came from. We saw Jesus employ whatever methodology was needed at a given time to help people cross any barrier or obstacle to getting into the kingdom of God.
Now let’s zoom in a bit.
In this post, we’ll briefly look at two narratives that tell the same story. Jesus’ primary goal in seeking and saving the lost was to connect them with God, whether he crossed cultural barriers to get to them or gave space for them to cross barriers to come to him. The two stories come from Matthew 8 in detailing Jesus, a cross cultural worker, on mission and in attraction to those who yet do not know God.
In the first narrative, we see an example of attractional force through the life and ministry of Jesus as we meet a mercenary soldier, likely hired by Herod for “peacekeeping” in the region. He is a Gentile and a ruler over 100 tough-as-nails fighters. Yet, he has a heart to know God. In Luke’s account, we see him employing great cultural sensitivity (something we have learned living in Asia) in sending an advocate to Jesus on his behalf. He sends some Jewish elders to let Jesus know that he is a good guy, and in fact the synagogue here in Capernaum exists because of his generosity. Basically, Jesus, he is worth your time.
Whew, isn’t it a good thing that we don’t need an advocate to give God reason to listen to us?
Jesus sincerely listens to the centurion’s request. The tough military man comes with concern for his sick and dying servant, likely someone he considers like family. After hearing the plea, Jesus immediately responds by desiring to go to the Gentile soldier’s house, but the military leader stops him. He explains how he understands authority and asks Jesus to just say the word, which leads to one of Jesus’ greatest attractional statements regarding the Mission of God.
“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:11-12)
In the same way, we should allow space for people to come to us and interrupt our routine. It is not about creating a space that attracts them, but creating a presence in who we are as a church and ministry that draws people to see what God is doing in this community of faith. I know when people in Thailand change their life, sometimes their friends and family are so curious about what took place in them, they want to come and check out this thing called church.
The second narrative illustrates Jesus crossing barriers to get to those that are pushed far to the edges of society. Here he is on his way to the Decapolis, a Greek haven comprised of ten small cities. When he disembarks with the disciples from their boat, they are on the fringes of this area in a place known as the Gaderenes. Here Jesus encounters two demonized men who are confined to the tombs and even the chains cannot restrict them. No one wanted to walk near them afraid of the fanatics living in the shadows among the spirits. As my imagination runs with the story, I picture a setting that could birth a super scary movie. It is in this context that Jesus crosses barriers to help the Gentiles who are far from God. He casts out the demons, giving them new life, but due to the pigs running off the farm into the sea and drowning, the town’s people demand Jesus go.
However, later when they realize who Jesus is and what he can do, they mob him wanting more of what he has the next time he travels through their area (Mark 6:53-56).
What Jesus shows in crossing barriers to get to all the people of his world, is that some may never cross the threshold of a place of worship or join a gathering where Jesus might teach and minister. Even if our churches work to peak capacity, we will never get all the people God wants us to reach to enter our world. There are times, and more than seldom times in which we have to get onto the streets of our communities or even cross over into other communities to bring God’s love and transforming power to people desperate for a touch of the divine.
How do you see the both/and principle of missional and attractional working in your life? Or where is it lacking?