Jesus’ message was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This message of repentance has been defined by Evangelical Christians to mean something along the lines of: “Feel guilty for your sin. Apologize for being a sinner. Pray a prayer accepting God’s forgiveness purchased for you by the death of Jesus on the cross, so that you can go to heaven when you die. And then, do your best to stop sinning, so you can stay on God’s good side.”
But this is not the message Jesus preached. He had not yet died on a cross. No atonement had been made. He made no promise of escape to happy heaven, and he freely distributed God’s forgiveness to everyone he met.
Rather than the “Christian” version of “salvation,” Jesus offered an invitation. An invitation to begin living a New Way. The Jesus Way. THE Way. He taught of this Way, inviting the rich to share with the poor. He invited wounded people to forgive their offenders. He encouraged oppressors to be kind and merciful. He told stories of a “kingdom,” in which every person is cared for. He summed up the entirety of his Way as simply Loving God, and Loving Others.
Then Jesus showed his friends how to do it. In everyday situations, as he encountered people, he demonstrated this Way. He modeled how to treat women, how to touch lepers, how to hold children. When his disciples wanted to call down fire on people, he said, “Come on now guys, that’s not how we do things in this Way.” When they pushed little children aside, he said, “Unless you become like these little ones, you can’t experience the Kingdom of God.” When religious people confronted him about obeying the rules, Jesus said, “Whoever is without sin can cast the first stone;” then he released and forgave the accused.
I often tell people that Joe’s Addiction was a grand experiment. We started this little community with two questions in mind:
- Is it even possible to do the things that Jesus taught? (Can anyone really ever live that Way?)
- If we do, does it matter? (Does it really change anything? Individual lives? A whole community’s life?)
We asked these questions, and then we set out to try it. To become Apprentices of The Way. I guess you could say, we repented.
Every Sunday, we look at another story, another section of the Gospels. The parts in the red letters, especially. What did Jesus say? What did he teach? And then we try to practice it all through the week. We remind one another of his teaching, and those of us who have been practicing longer (albeit imperfectly!) model for others how to walk this Way—in everyday situations—reminding one another to “put down the sword,” because “those who live by the sword die by the sword” (this is not easy, especially for gang members), reminding one another that forgiving is better than revenge, reminding one another that caring for the “least” in our community is the greatest thing we can do.
One of my most favorite things is when I see someone, without suggestion, without reminder, walking The Way of Jesus. Last week, a woman in our community who is currently living outside came into Joe’s with some egg rolls and chicken strips. It wasn’t a lot, just a small bag. I don’t know if someone gave them to her or if maybe she bought them at the convenience store down the street, but they were hers. Sometimes this woman carries with her lots of belongings, and when she comes into the shop, she piles them up on the floor and table around her. But this day, all she carried was her small bag of food.
She hung out for a while, visiting with some friends, watching the TV. Then she went to the barista and said, “I have to go to such and such place. I’m gonna leave my food here, but it’s my food. I’m gonna eat it when I get back. ‘kay?”
We don’t have personal lockers, and we can’t really protect people’s items. It’s a very public space, and most everybody knows if you leave something, it’s kind of at your own risk. So the barista reminded her of that, to which she turned and said to everyone in the room, “This is my food. I’m coming back for it. Nobody eat it. K?” There were a few nods, but mostly people kept playing cards, looking at the TV or their phones. She walked out the door, leaving her bag on a table at the side of the room.
Several hours later, she returned to the coffee shop and began looking for her food. By this time, a different barista was on duty. The barista didn’t know anything about her bag of egg rolls and chicken strips. The woman began wandering from table to table, looking at people’s stuff, even moving things around on the counter, trying to find her food.
Then Judy. Let me tell you about Judy. Judy came to our Joe’s Community a few years ago, invited by a friend. She had such severe social anxiety that she couldn’t speak to anyone. She would sit in a corner by herself or next to her friend who helped to keep her calm. Sometimes she would be overwhelmed and hurry out the door. Over the years, we have watched Judy come out of her shell, little by little, until she has not only become a feature in our Community, but a leader.
Judy has next to nothing, barely makes ends meet each month and often asks me to “hold on” to $20 for her, so she will have enough to buy her anxiety meds when the time comes. And she is still shy. It’s still difficult for her to talk to people, but this day she stood up, walked over to the woman and said, “Honey, you were gone a long time. Someone must have eaten your food. Whoever it was must have been hungry. It’s okay. Come with me. I have a can of soup at my house. I’ll warm it up for you.”
The best part of this story is that I wasn’t there when all of this happened. I didn’t see it with my own eyes. Judy came to me the day after and told me what she’d done. With twinkle in her eye and childlike anticipation of my response, she asked me, “Did I do the right thing?” It was my pleasure to tell her that she is JUST LIKE JESUS!
(Judy has given permission for me to share this story.)