Out of the Circle

Do you Consider your list of friends on Facebook and Twitter an accomplishment? Do you know that Jesus gave a pointed teaching on who should be included in our circle long before these technologies even existed?
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source: Catholic.net
           

           How many do you have?  You know, fans, those Facebook people who have “friended you”, or maybe those Twitter people who follow you. How many do you have? Is it scores, hundreds or thousands?  It seems today that we have a whole new standard of measuring our success as a human being and that seems to be by how many people we are in contact with.  “In contact with” also seems to have a new definition these days.  It could actually mean people whom we have never even seen face to face and/or never even talked to person to person!  Just names on a screen that we have O.K.ed as our “friends”, at their request.  We dialog, device to device with no human contact ever necessary.  Now that’s what I call friendship!  Simply have someone who has no real contact with you observe where you go and what you do and put them on a list which indicates that they are your friend or follower.  Yikes!  Could we have invented a more sanitary, sterile, riskless way of being present in the world?  Talk about a lack of commitment, this new definition of “friendship” seems to be the ultimate example.   

            Believe it or not, Jesus gave a teaching on this same phenomenon long before it ever manifested in our society.  In Matthew 5:43- 48 he elaborates on what it really means to be a “friend” in the context of being a follower of Jesus.  He reminds his apostles that the sun sets on “the bad and the good alike” and that the rain falls on the just as well as the unjust.  Teaching them privately then, he  goes on to remind his followers that only keeping company with those who love you is no great achievement.  In fact his lesson to them includes a rebuke as well as biting sarcasm to make his point; “For if you love those who love you what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” His inclusion of the “tax collector” comment is significant because this strata of people was considered to be the lowest and most vile level of the society in that day.  These were the guys who “sold out” to the dictators of Rome in order to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.  The final part of this teaching hits even closer to home; “And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” Again he uses a barb from the contemporary society by comparing his followers’ behavior to the “pagans”.  This would have been a ‘hard word” to those who were present and considered themselves followers of The Messiah.  

            As one reviews Jesus’ teachings we can note that his words to the gathered crowds and his words to his disciples in private were often two different things.  His “public discourses” most frequently revolved around preaching the love of God and demonstrating compassion towards the crowds.  In the feeding of the five-thousand he is even recorded as “feeling sorry” for those who had been gathered there for days.  His private teaching to his disciples, though, is a different matter.   He is constantly pushing them and challenging their way of thinking to come to a different conclusion they were used to.  His use of two very sharp metaphors in the cited case is a clear example of that.  In that lesson He was clearly anxious for his point to be made and did not have time to tactfully walk around the edges of the matter.  Friendship for a follower of Jesus is neither familiar, comfortable nor safe.  In others words Jesus fully expected his disciples to extend themselves to the poor, the outcast and strangers, people who were out of their normal and safe “circle of influence”.  He expected his followers to bring the teachings of “The Way” to every place without discrimination or regard for what is safe and/or familiar.  This stands in stark contrast to the way we have managed to define friendship in this age of technology.  The practice of using Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites is actually considered to be a valid mark of popularity these days.  In society at large you often hear something like; “Family is more important than anything else to me, I love them to death.”   We seem to measure our societal worth by devotion to family and quantity of our anonymous acquaintances.  Although our affection for family the numbers of people we have on our social net work are not bad things, we need to keep our “Christian” perspective clear. 

              Jesus’ clear and pointed message in the Matthew passage teaches us that the work we have to do in this world has nothing to do with situations which are in “our circle”, familiar, comfortable or safe.  As a matter of fact this Matthew discourse teaches that we are to be exceptional in our ministry and our way in the world.  We are to approach enemies, gather strangers, treat those we do not know with respect whether they appear to deserve it or not.  Clearly our work is supposed to be “out of our circle” not within the places that we find to be the most familiar and the least threatening to us.  If we only deal with people who favor us or know us we clearly have “no recompense”, no credit, for that act.  As followers of Christ we have no right to deny friendship, greeting, affection, cordiality, assistance, to anyone.  All are worthy.  If God allows life giving rain to fall on good and bad alike we literally have no authority to shun anyone.  Once again Jesus teaches that ministering the love of God is neither comfortable nor convenient, nor is it supposed to be.  What’s your definition of friendship?   “Do you think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.  I have come to bring not peace. …. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10: 34, 37)   Time to move out of the circle, that’s where your ministry is to be found. 

Copyright©2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved

Check out more of Kathryn's thinking and writing @ www.atravelersview.org 

 

 

 

 



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