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Do you sometimes feel like an “untouchable”? Have you ever been ashamed to say, “You don’t know what I’ve done, how unethical I’ve been, how many bad decisions I’ve made, how many times I’ve shaken my fist at God”? If so, you’re not alone. Thankfully, author Gary M. Burge has a message for you, and others like you: Jesus wants to encounter you, just as you are. When Burge re-examined Jesus’ biblical encounters with people – being careful to view them in their unique historical context – he emerged with fresh, ...
Do you sometimes feel like an “untouchable”? Have you ever been ashamed to say, “You don’t know what I’ve done, how unethical I’ve been, how many bad decisions I’ve made, how many times I’ve shaken my fist at God”? If so, you’re not alone. Thankfully, author Gary M. Burge has a message for you, and others like you: Jesus wants to encounter you, just as you are. When Burge re-examined Jesus’ biblical encounters with people – being careful to view them in their unique historical context – he emerged with fresh, powerful insights about how Jesus interacted with people then, and still does today “One of the more surprising features of Jesus’ ministry was his willingness to have personal encounters with people,” he writes. “In fact, what is unique about the gospels are the unexpected stories that detailed Jesus’ regular interruptions.” These “interruptions” came in the form of people from all walks of life – young, old, rich, poor, sick, healthy, riddled with sin, or saddled by self-righteousness. “No situation or condition will impede Jesus’ approach,” Burge writes. “All are welcome.” Encounters With Jesus is a book that will be read, re-read, and recommended to friends and family alike because its message is sorely needed today: “Jesus took time for people who thought they were invisible...this is a relief to those of us who are imperfect.”
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HAVE YOU ever wondered what it would be like to encounter Jesus personally? We often fill this scene with our own imagined ideas of what he was like and how he connected to people. Compassion, strength, patience, wisdom, gentleness-these are some of the values we project onto him. And many are accurate. But I wonder if such scenes need to be shaped instead by real stories we have in the Gospels.
One of the more surprising features of Jesus' ministry was his willingness to have personal encounters with people. In some cases they were keenly interested in him and wanted to explore how they might become his followers. Occasionally they were well-placed leaders, tax collectors or military officials perhaps, and Jesus moved directly into their personal worlds. In other cases, Jesus met people with profound, debilitating health needs, and he stopped to see what could be done. Even children were quickly and easily drawn to him, and stories remain that describe how he reacted.
Records of famous teachers from the ancient world rarely offer us such accounts. Rare is the leader who was known for his engagement with the needy. Rarer still is the detailed The Galilee village of Gamla, destroyed by the Romans during narrative of the rabbi or sage who invested in the personal troubles of the poor. But this must have been a hallmark of Jesus' presence in Galilee. He did not organize a school in a well-known city such as Jerusalem and invite people to come for lectures. Nor did he anchor himself in a remote location and permit seekers to find their way into the desert or mountains. Near the Dead Sea a first-century community we call Qumran built such a remote place, and its "Teacher of Righteous ness" (as the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls refer to him) lived there and taught hundreds of disciples. In the medieval era, Jewish mystics located themselves in a village called Safed and in the remoteness of Galilee's northern mountains invited Jewish inquirers to join them.
Jesus did none of these things. After his tumultuous departure from Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), Jesus moved to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 4:31) and there made his new home (Mark 2:1). This did attract many people, who sought him out, to the Capernaum synagogue but this village never became his platform for ministry per se. On one occasion while he was in the village, word got out that he was home, and suddenly Jesus found himself stuck in a small village house, overrun by eager, needy people (Mark 2:1-12). But most of his efforts happened elsewhere. It was near here that Jesus met the crowd of five thousand who were so riveted by his teaching and would not move despite their hunger-which Jesus resolved with a miracle (Mark 6:30-45). We know this took place on a hill not far from Capernaum since afterward a debate broke out in the Capernaum synagogue near the shore (John 6:59).
But this was not the usual state of affairs for Jesus and his entourage of twelve. Jesus moved around the country, visiting the many villages that dotted the landscape. Implicit in his call to the apostles was the notion that a part of the costliness of being his follower was that their location would change. Men who had been fishing all their lives-men whose homes were in Bethsaida or Capernaum-suddenly learned that Jesus was going to be on the road reaching people who had not come looking for him. Jesus hinted at this when he referred to foxes having holes to live in and birds having nests, but he would have nothing similar (Matt. 8:20). On occasion these followers were happy with the plan. At other times they were exasperated, such as when Peter complained, "We have left everything to follow you!" (Matt. 19:27). And at times they were impatient with the inefficiencies of Jesus' willingness to pause and be interrupted by the slightest need.
The great record of Jesus' life found in the Gospels is not merely a catalogue of his teachings, although this is important. Nor is it only an account of his great works. What is unique about the Gospels are the unexpected stories that detail Jesus' regular interruptions. Jesus took time for people who generally assumed that they were invisible. And what remains from those interruptions are stories that show the remarkable extent to which Jesus affected individual lives.
In other words, the "great canvas" on which the story of Christ was painted is not simply filled with large crowds, theological debates, Herodian intrigue, and roman power. The gospel writers left surprising room for the individual story, the personal account, the transformed person. The measure of this messianic task was not found simply in its numbers or in its "successes," however that may be measured. The Gospels are filled with unexpected humble victories, quiet stories of children and lepers and the hopeless, who rarely appear on anyone's agenda. Sometimes these are major leaders of some importance who have private contact with him-but their appearance in the story has less to do with their stature or money or position than it does with their approach to Jesus and their willingness to be encountered.
Jesus and the Poor
Scholars agree that of all the old testament prophecies that were critical to Jesus' sense of mission, Isaiah 61 stands out.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners ... (Isa. 61:1)
Excerpted from Encounters with Jesus by Gary M. Burge Copyright © 2010 by Gary M. Burge. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted July 13, 2011
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