Real Mission: the Company You Keep
We've heard it said, "You are who you hang out with.” Right about now, you’re looking around the room going, “oh man, is this who I am?” Or, maybe you’re saying, “wow, look how great I am.” Of course, at a time like this, the only room to look around and see people is a chat room or a Zoom call or at best, your covered porch that holds blood relatives or maybe a dear friend. If we are who we hang out with, are many of us feeling quite alone?
I’ve never had much time for reading. A true extrovert at heart, sitting down for hours to read a book always kept me from ‘being with’ others. And, having a profession that requires quite a bit of reading and writing, I often attribute the act to a necessary obligation to remain flexible and informed by voices beyond those who I would normally choose to hear myself. All of that, coupled with being the mother of two small children and the chances of disappearing into the world of a novel become nearly impossible, or at least improbable.
My good friend Anny Stevens-Gleason will even tell you that I’m the one in our book club that rarely finishes the book, but almost always brings an appetizer and a bottle of wine, ready to delve into conversation about a book that I did not read. They’re good company. The people in our book club. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I’m grateful for their insight especially the times that I haven’t finished the reading assignment.
In seminary, every student who was preparing for ordination was required to read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest the entirety of the New Testament, focusing especially on the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In those few pages, (less than the novel my book club read last month) you meet Jesus, a wondering mystic who hung out with a bunch of shady characters, complicated people, people who were: different, dirty, denigrated, and often delegated to roles that they did not choose for themselves.
A few of my favorite friends of Jesus were some serious weirdos.
Lazarus. A single guy who lived with his sisters and got himself in trouble running his mouth. It’s okay though, because Jesus brought him out of a tomb, stinky and decaying, dressed like a mummy, so that he could live again.
Mary Magdalene. A woman who didn’t follow the rules of society, hung out around men that she wasn’t related to, and wasted lots of money pouring expensive oils on people’s heads just to show them how much she loved them. She turned out to be the first witness to the resurrection.
John the Evangelist. A poor fisherman that believed himself to be so righteous that he should sit at the right hand of Christ when he came into his kingdom. Unfortunately, his misunderstood what sort of Lordship Christ would choose. Turns out, he did join Jesus in his majesty.
There are many more odd characters in the stories we read that tell us the kind of company that Jesus kept. Sinners, tax collectors, fishermen, beggars, prostitutes, and rich young men that knew no greater good in life than acquiring more and keeping distance from those who were deemed less. After all, you are who you hang out with.
Recently, while hanging out with my friends at Justice Circle, a group of Episcopalians in the Diocese of Southern Ohio committed to education and action for the greater good, a colleague shared a song that has been ringing in my ears for weeks now. It is called “We Shall Be Known,” and it follows the age-old adage that we shall be known by the company we keep. And while I find this to hold quite a lot of merit, I think that we all can agree that while Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, he himself was not these things. He was however someone who was eager to change, to change the world. He was hungry. Hungry and thirsty for righteousness. He was fishing. Fishing for people. He was who he hung out with and they were like him too: complicated characters that couldn’t be content with the way things were.
During this time of quarantine I’ve decided to hang out with Jesus a little bit more. I’m reading his story, again, I’m thinking about the people who he hung out with. I’m hoping to be a little more like him.
I’m also hanging out with people I wouldn’t normally see or have the time to converse with. Neighbors, distant relatives, people who live far away in very different places with very different realities. I hope, by the end of all of this I’ll be a little more like them too. A little more curious, a little more bold, and a lot more joyful.
I wonder who you’re hanging out with? Who you are listening to? Whose stories you hear? I wonder if you will be a little more like them when we meet again? Take it all in and open yourself to the possibility of change, and don’t forget, God is hanging out with all sorts of people. Imagine how much closer to Christ we will be when we too are open to hangin’ out with some complex and complicated characters.
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