There are few things as fun as reading through the story of Jesus with a group of people for their first time. When you’ve been part of the church for a long time, as I have, there is so much we take for granted. Things that seem obvious or commonplace to us still surprise and delight a new hearer. In my Catholic context in Arequipa, Peru, the Jesus people usually see is either of Jesus as a child or Jesus on a cross. How do we in the U.S. see Jesus?
In the last couple months I’ve started reading through Mark’s account of the Jesus story with two not-yet-Christian families. Mark keeps it short, filled with action, and centers the story around the question, “Who is Jesus?” It works so well in a small group or family setting because the Jesus story was meant to be experienced in a group. Think of the early groups of believers, hundreds of years ago, who would’ve gathered to hear Jesus’s story read aloud on the only copy they had. We each hear Jesus slightly differently. Sharing those differences with each other helps us better to understand the image of God which Jesus fully reflected and which we have the capacity to reflect.
There have been several questions I take for granted that have surprised me as we’ve read through Jesus’s story with these Peruvian friends. For example, what “law” is Jesus always talking about? Or did Jesus really have siblings? (That’s a tough one in a context where people have been taught Mary conceived Jesus a virgin and maintained her virginity the rest of her life) And did Jesus’s cousin John really eat lobster in the wilderness? (The Spanish word “langosta” can mean both locust and lobster…I’d rather eat lobster, you?)
These are just three questions raised when experiencing the Jesus story with fresh eyes and ears. Questions I would not have raised by myself, because I’ve already decided who Jesus is. But seeing Jesus with a new group causes me to readjust my focus, to come to Jesus in a new light, and to be surprised by Jesus once again.
I believe with all that I am that when people come closer to Jesus, things change. A desire to put someone else first starts to replace our selfish instinct. Instead of seeing rivalry or enemies we start to see the capacity for the image of God in someone else. We bring together and unite instead of segregating and dividing. With Jesus, the secular becomes sacred, the common becomes special, so we too reflect God into our neighborhoods, workplaces, and favorite restaurants. And we do it together.
Sit down and read through the Jesus story with someone, and you’ll realize that we all experience Jesus slightly differently, be it a fellow church member, a friend, or an acquaintance. Be ready to learn. Be ready to share. We’ll be amazed by Jesus’s capacity to surprise, clash, and delight, all through his call to follow him—and the God he embodies.
One of the most surprising things to me about Jesus’s life is the sheer amount of time he spends talking about food and feasts, and the time he spends actually eating—with friends, outsiders, and rivals. There must be something special about sharing a table with other people who share God’s image.
What about you? What surprises you most about seeing Jesus? Share your answer in the comments below.