While I was pastoring our church in Toledo, Ohio, Bill started attending the church. Bill lived alone, down the street, in a small ten foot wide mobile home that most would refer to as a trailer. Bill’s social skills were limited. He was a nice man, but, admittedly, not the type of person people would naturally be attracted to. Bill had this habit of suddenly inhaling a breath of air, sniffing every few seconds. Being the preacher up front, it could be distracting. One week my wife made him an apple pie, having packed it in a flat cardboard box. Bill expressed his gratitude, took the boxed pie, turned it on its edge, then tucked it under his arm, and started walking toward home. We’ve always wondered about the condition of the pie once he unpacked it at home.
Over the years of pastoring we’ve had other folks come to our church who were a lot like Bill, often with marginal social skills, sometimes having grooming habits that would be considered substandard by most others. I figured out what God was doing, so I determined to see these dear folks as Jesus in disguise.
We’re going to come across people different from us in ways that make them less appealing. They may be a relative, a neighbor, a co-worker, or even a fellow church attender. I’ve often said there are people I wouldn’t mind being holed up in a barn with during a snowstorm for an extended time, and there are others I would not want to be stuck with during a snowstorm. It’s those folks that I’d rather they find their own barn that I’m referring to.
God calls me to love all people, even those I don’t like, or at least don’t like as much as others. It’s those I would not like spending much time with that I’ve come to see as Jesus in disguise! I’ll be honest with you, over nearly 40 years of ministry, Jesus showed up disguised as quite a number of people!
We all have people we’re naturally attracted to, people with whom we have much in common, those who are in many ways like us. Then there are those to whom we’re not naturally drawn. We have to recognize what God is up to here. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow He will put people near us who we’d rather not be near!
As a Christian I’ve come to see that this is a test! It’s an opportunity for spiritual growth. These folks I’d rather not be stuck in a snowstorm with are Jesus in disguise. He cares a lot for them, and how I treat these folks is how Jesus sees me treating Him; He takes it personally!
Jesus told a story to an expert in religious law about a man who was mugged along a road. Two religious guys, a priest and a Levite, passed by the injured man, but a Samaritan (Samaritans and the Jewish population had, at best, a strained relationship) helped the injured man who was Jewish, a man to whom he would not have been naturally drawn.
Jesus asked the expert in religious law, “’Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:36-37)