A friend and I were catching up recently. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year. During that time, my life, though rich and full, had been continuing along its usual course. By contrast, my friend has travelled to faraway lands, met loads of new people, and studied new subjects. It was fun to hear how much he is growing.
A trip to the Holy Land numbered among his adventures. He was deeply moved by being where Jesus had been. Walking where Jesus had walked. Touching the places of his Garden agony and his burial.
As my young friend described his responses to Israel’s many sacred sites, I thought about how his experience would enliven his preaching.
For instance, his sermons about the Passion will contain greater detail because he has been to Golgotha himself. He won’t be merely repeating what someone else told him about the place or what he’s read about it.
When we speak to others about the healing, transforming power of God’s love, our words can touch and move them when we share that we’ve been where they are right now. We too have known sorrow, loneliness, discouragement, remorse, anger, and loss. Our words have authority because we’ve been there, too.
Men and women in recovery are often the best people to guide addicts toward sobriety. People wounded by dysfunctional or abusive families can absorb comfort and wisdom from others who have been there, too.
Some people are lonely and others are suffering with chronic illness. Sons and daughters have grown distant, marriages have grown cold, jobs have disappeared because the plant has closed down, or the landlord has just given you the eviction notice.
Sometimes we’re so sad or tired or discouraged that we can’t imagine taking one more step.
You’ve heard the sort of thing I mean: Everything happens for a reason. God never gives you more than you can handle. It sounds remarkably like, “That’s pretty bad. I’m glad I’m not you. If you have enough faith God will fix things right up. Just look at me.” This is not Good News. It’s spiritual noise at best and spiritual abusiveness at worst.
By contrast, I’ve heard people say, “I know this is really hard. I’ve been there, too. And you know what? I’ll be right here with you until we get through to the other side.”
Those people get my attention. They’ve been there. They understand what I’m going through. And I trust that they’ll be here with me and for me. They’re speaking to me with authority.
When Jesus was teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum, people were straining forward to catch every word. He wasn’t passing on Bible facts or outlining rules we have to follow to avoid God’s wrath. He was connecting with his listeners in the depths of their own sorrows and hopes, regrets and fears, misery and tender affections.
He had been where they were. He had encountered God’s healing love in precisely their very personal places. And he was there to help them experience God’s holy, life-changing love for themselves.
Jesus’ authority did not come from what he had learned in Torah study. Neither did his authority come from holding a position in the synagogue or the Temple. Instead, his authority came from his willingness to be vulnerable.
In Jesus, God touched, caressed, and healed even the deepest, most fragile places of all human life. He had been there, right in the midst of life’s messiness. The messiness that we have so much trouble admitting to other people. It takes real guts to admit our own brokenness. But how can you talk about being made whole without sharing that very brokenness?
Jesus sends us into the world to talk about God’s love. To share the Good News. With authority. And Jesus shows us where our authority will come from. Our authority comes from our personal experience with God’s healing, life-giving love.
We will draw people to God’s love for them to the extent that people know that we’ve been where they are. And they will risk going deeper into that love if they trust that we’ll continue to travel with them to a new and wondrous place.