Have you ever noticed street preachers holding us signs that say “Jesus Is the Answer!” Perhaps, like me you wonder how effective that is. I have encountered many people in my travels and it seems to me that this sort of thing has the opposite effect from its intended purpose.
Many people have been hurt by “religious” people or perhaps “religious” beliefs that were in fact not religious at all. As a result they do not see an answer they see a subjective belief system filled with hate, judgment, condemnation and persecution. We are all told that “God is Love”. However, some how our society sees street preachers as preachers of hate and oppression.
It is as if we speak another language entirely. If we truly want to bring the mercy of Jesus Christ to our broken humanity then we need to know the question, not just the answer. We need to know how to speak the language of those we encounter. If I were in China I would speak Chinese. If I were in France I would speak French. If I am to evangelize in a world that worships status, fame, wealth, good looks or even being counter-cultural, then I need to know how to talk about these things in a way in which will identify what a person is seeking so that I can then speak a language that reveals that Jesus Christ is the answer.
We must first begin with; DESIRE. What is it that the person in front of desires? What is “their” question?
What do I mean by when I say we must know their question? What I mean is that we must get in touch with what people desire. What is it that they are hungry and longing for most in their lives? Usually people are afraid to come to Jesus because that means they must expose all of their brokeness as well as allow Him to break them open further. No one wants to be broken when they don’t have the graces to bear their inadequacies. Do you? I sure don’t.
So how do we begin? We must get in touch with the ache and longing inside of ourselves and learn to see it in others before we can ever effectively bring the Mercy and love of Jesus Christ to the world. Mercy is best understood when it is encountered rather than preached.
How Does Jesus Treat Sinners? With Mercy
The basic human desire is to love and to be loved, to find meaning and truth in our lives. Why? Because God, Himself, put it there. It is what keeps them open and seeking the “answer” to this God given question.
When we tell others that God is infinite love and desires our union with Him for eternity, do they understand eternity as an endless succession of days or as a plunging into the infinite ocean of love in which we are simply overjoyed to be submerged?
We must learn the language that other people are speaking. We must listen to those we encounter and hear their ache, hear their longing and then we will know their question, without it we can not give them the answer.
What I have noticed is that there is a debilitating communication problem between those who have found the answer and those who are seeking it. If we do not overcome this barrier then we will be sound like the parents on the Charlie Brown cartoon. We will sound like patronizing blurs of sound that makes no sense to anyone but ourselves.
When we begin to understand the desires stirring inside of every person we meet, then and only then can we begin to speak a language they can receive. What do they really want? Do they want purpose? Do they want friendship? Do they want food? Do they want someone to just listen to them?
How did Jesus treat people? How? He was harsh with the religious Pharisees, the ones that placed rules and laws over mercy but he was not harsh with sinners. He was quite the opposite. He was merciful and loving and he spoke in a language they could receive.
We need to stop thinking that there is only one way to evangelize. God speaks many languages and we must learn them. He wants us to go into the streets and bring Jesus to those who are lost and wandering in the desert.
He wants us to evangelize in the supermarket; he wants us to evangelize on the sidewalk, he wants us to evangelize everyday and everywhere we go and if necessary use words.
We can bring Jesus Christ to someone in a bar. I recently met a lesbian woman that came up to my daughter and me. I did not know she was a lesbian at first. She was so delightfully friendly and wonderful and as the conversation went on it became apparent that she was actually trying to pick me up. I asked her if she was married and she told me she was in a same sex relationship. I told her that while I affirm her desire to be loved as good, I believed that marriage is only between a man and a woman. I asked her if she ever ached or longed to hold life in her womb or suckle a child at her breast? I reminded her of what an honor and privilege it is to be a woman, that men, no matter how much they desired or fought for the “right” to have children, could never ever be pregnant with life inside them nor could their breasts ever produce the perfect milk from which to nourish their own child.
God put the desire to be mother in all women. Some are called to physical motherhood and some to spiritual motherhood but you cannot be a woman and not desire on some level to bring life into the world in some capacity. I taped into that desire because that is God’s truth. No matter of argument or discussion could ever tap into the ache that God planted into her being but God’s truth could. I knew that by touching upon that ache, I could awaken or perhaps bring to life that small seed planted within in her and perhaps with a new awareness of God, He could sprout it forth and bring it to life.
We discussed God, faith and so much more. She was upset at first that I did not agree with same sex marriage and she even tried to sell me on her belief that we can “choose” whether we are a man or woman telling me that it is just a “state of mind”.
This is when I began to talk to her about Theology of The Body. She agreed with me that the body and mind and spirit are one. She then tried to justify her choosing to be male or masculine as proof of how our minds determine our sexuality. When I reminded her that she said her body and mind where one and that her body was intrinsically female and it is a contradiction to say your mind can chose something that is opposite of your body when the two are supposed to be one, she became confused.
Remember, many people have lost the ability to critically thing through information separate from their emotions or feelings or beliefs on a subject. If you try to challenge their beliefs, they see only judgment or condemnation, not an invitation to rationally discuss the theological implications of sexuality. I told this woman that if we took cheek cells of hers and put it onto a slide any scientist would determine she is a woman because she does not carry an Y chromosome. She can fight for her right to be a man, she can cut off her breasts or take hormones to make her facial hair grow, but she cannot become a male because she is female.
She had been raised Catholic and was told she was going to hell (her words not mine) and was condemned by her mother and her siblings and her faith community. She was raised here in the midwest but because she was persecuted she moved to California where she was loved and accepted. She was thoroughly confused that I could be both Catholic and yet still loving and affirming her. Several times she asked me if I was a “real” Catholic. To her, I could not be a “real” Catholic because they would never go to a bar, they would never talk to a lesbian, they would never have a discussion but would instead force a rhetoric down her throat.
Our time together was like a complicated dance in which I allowed her to lead. I listened to the meanings behind her words so I could understand her beliefs, her judgments, her questions. I then allowed her to lead the conversation and I followed her answering the questions she asked using her own language, her own words so that their meanings would be understood.
By the end of the conversation, my hope was that she saw I was not giving an opinion or judgment that a woman cannot be a man and vice versa but that she was a created by God as a woman and that it is very good and God has a plan for her life and her being a woman is intimately tied to that truth.
My only intention was to get her to see the beauty of being woman and that her call to love and be loved is stamped into her body. I tried to love her, right where she was and only talked about the what she desired to talk about but gave her Jesus over and over.
Why did I let her lead? Because this is where she was “open”. This is where the Holy Spirit had plowed her open like a field in preparation to receive the divine seed of truth. To cast seeds elsewhere would be in vain. She showed me where she was ready to receive and I prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide me so that He could enter into her heart and begin to grow where He had made her ready. It was no coincidence that we met and that this conversation took place in the most unlikely of places. This was divine providence. She was led to me and I to her so that Jesus could woo her to himself.
We are like the footman in the movie Cinderella. Jesus Christ goes to the ends of the earth to find us, he turns no person away. We are to help invite people to try on the glass slipper which is a sign of our dignity and our inheritance and deliverance from the evils of the world. The difference is that the slipper fits everyone. It conforms to the person that is trying it on. We bring the invitation and when they see it fits them despite their sins, they too will see they are called to be crowned bride to the prince.
So are you ready? Are you ready to find out the questions on the hearts of so many souls wandering in the desert? We are all longing for something and though Jesus is the answer, sometimes we must begin with the question. Mercy must be encountered not preached. If you want to teach Jesus Christ as the answer, then begin by becoming Jesus Christ to those people God places in your life. Once you know the question, it will be your own growth and transformation in Christ that will enable you to share the answer. Go out and invite people to the marriage feast of the lamb!
We must answer the question ourselves first. We must say yes to the marriage proposal before we can invite others to do the same. We must become transformed ourselves. We must receive Jesus; conceive His love deep in our own hearts, minds and souls. We must grieve the places we have failed and in this place where we are broken, we must birth Him forth into the world. It is from our places of brokeness that He will most perfectly triumph over evil and with prayer He will sustain us. When the enemy comes to tell you that you cannot do this, remember, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” Philippians 4:13