Many of my clergy friends are moving and have moved to new contexts for ministry in the past weeks and I thought this is relevant to getting to know people.
When Zachaeus climbs up a tree, Jesus tells him he's going to his house today...at least, that's how the song goes that I was taught. Looking at Luke 19 verse 5, it's pretty clear that Jesus just invites himself over to Zach's house. I don't know what the culturally accepted (or expected) way of doing things was back then, but I know that today in the U.S.A. That's not typically how it works. That's called "inviting yourself over." It could also be called "party crashing." At least Jesus made contact first and gave a warning. Jesus didn't just show up at Zach's private residence, but he did invite himself over.
Can/should we follow Jesus' example today? Is it ok for me as a Follower of Christ to just invite myself over into people's homes to spend time with them? What's the balance between respecting culture and violating etiquette? Let's take a deeper look at the story.
Jesus does not just invite himself over out of the blue. Zach made a clear effort to try and get to know Jesus. Jesus responded and said, "I'm coming to your house." So, it would not be best to walk up to some random stranger and say "I'm coming to your house today." If that "stranger" is an acquaintance (or on the way to becoming one) and shows an interest in you and what you're about, then you can invite further conversation and invite yourself to their home.
Also, notice that Jesus knows Zach's name. Whether it was divine foreknowledge, or if Zach was a well-known public figure, the story doesn't say. But, Jesus knows Zach's name. Again, this is not just a random stranger out of the blue. The story says Zach is a rich leader among tax collectors. Zach is a person of influence, and probably known in the community, which can be negative or positive (in this case, probably negative because he's a tax collector). And Jesus knows his name and calls him by name. I imagine Zach also knew Jesus' name. Why else would he be climbing a tree to try and see him? Ok, maybe he just did it because everyone else was crowding Jesus and Zach just wanted to see what the spectacle was. But even then, the buzz was probably going around: "Jesus is here." So they both probably knew of each other, but didn't necessarily know one another. So if you know a persons name, and they probably know yours, then you can invite yourself over to their home. Are you following me?
Why am I discussing this? Because breaking cultural norms to reach people for Christ is tricky business. I need to fit in culturally, and speak the language, and follow the "rules," but the cause of Christ compels me to push the boundaries and take risks. Inviting myself over is a daunting risk, but if I know the person's name, and they've made an effort to know me, then I'm just returning the favor and seeking to know them more. This is how relationships start, and a relationship with me is a start to a relationship with Christ.
So don't pass up the opportunity to violate etiquette and invite yourself over to strangers homes. They won't be strangers for long, and you have the chance to share your relationship with Christ by starting a new one. Take the risk. It's worth it.
What do you think, is inviting yourself over going too far? How is it different from door-to-door evangelism? I think if you keep the above thoughts in mind and the person is becoming an acquaintance instead of a total stranger, then you're good to go. But honestly, for me, it's a very daunting task to step out, risk rejection and build a deeper relationship with some one I don't know. Again, the risk is worth it for the sake of Christ. I'm working on growing in this area myself, and I'm finding that yes, taking the risk is worth it. I
I am a United Methodist Pastor, but I'm trying to re-define that as a Missionary sent to my corner of the USA. What would it look like for you to envision your life as a Christian more like a Missionary than a Church-goer?