The Shoe Shouldn’t FitBy Jon Kelly
October 14, 2020
“And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” – Luke 9:18
Growing up as a kid I always tried to fit in. I wasn’t American enough for my American friends because my family migrated from Jamaica and they spoke with a thick accent. I wasn’t Jamaican enough for my Jamaican friends because I was born and raised in America and I didn’t speak with an accent. In school, I wasn’t cool enough because I wore the same three or four sets of clothes every week. My family couldn’t afford it. I didn’t fit in.
For some reason, I always felt the pressure to conform and identify with something. Although I have changed and grown, the pressure from the culture hasn’t changed many years later. Even though I am more mature and confident in who I am in Christ, there is the constant pressure from the culture around me to fit in, especially in today’s political and social climate. The culture around us creates categories and then forces us to choose. We’re told that to be for black lives it so be against the police. You are either for life in the womb or outside of the womb. You either are preaching the gospel or you are about social justice. The list goes on and on because the world categorizes everything and then asks you to choose which one you will reside in. Christians are often pressured to choose and conform. We even fall into the trap of creating categories ourselves and pressuring one another to fit in.
I find great joy knowing that Jesus didn’t fit into any of the categories that the culture around him created and sought to enforce. Most of the people that Jesus encountered (including his disciples) didn’t know what to do with him. He often went against the grain of the culture. He taught regularly in the synagogues “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt.7:29). Yet, Jesus wasn’t a Pharisee and would often criticize them.
When Jews were racially divided and wouldn’t engage Samaritans (they would walk around Samaria), scripture says that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). He not only passes through Samaria, but spends time talking with woman from the area (which was frowned upon). When his disciples arrived “they marveled that he was talking with a woman” (John 4:27). The Jews didn’t know what to do with him. Is he the messiah? Is he going to deliver us from Roman oppression? Should we make him king? He doesn’t seem like a king. Is he John the Baptist raised from the dead? Or is he Elijah? The Pharisees often questioned Jesus hoping to trap him or lock him into a category, but they regularly failed.
Here are three things that I learned from Jesus about fitting in.
You don’t have to choose.
So often we feel the pressure to choose a side. This is seen clearly in politics. I’m not a Republican or Democrat. I have no problems with Christians who are. I personally am not because I see things in both parties that are right and good; yet there are many things that I see that are concerning and questionable. (I will not get into them here.) Christians often feel forced to choose a political party and adopt all issues they emphasize, even if some of those issues cause concerns. But at least we are not like “them over there.” Assimilation into this partisan culture has created an environment in which we celebrate the good in the party we support, but too often refuse to call out weaknesses in the same party. We often do this at the expense of the kingdom and our relationships with our siblings in Christ. I want to say to you today: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CHOOSE! It is okay to be politically homeless.
The Kingdom transcends this world.
While Jesus conformed to our humanity (without sin), he spent his life teaching humanity a better way. Like Jesus, we are called to speak into this world and show them the ways of the Kingdom we are from. Luke 8:1 says that Jesus, “went on through cities and villages, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” (emphasis added). I love this truth. It shows that we aren’t only “saved from something” (our sins and God’s wrath), but that we are also “saved into something” (the kingdom of God). Local churches are kingdom embassies deployed by God in order to represent the true King and to called all into his kingdom. This is why Paul calls us ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Jesus respected the authorities and civil responsibilities, yet when facing death, he made sure to emphasize, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The same goes for you and me. You are a citizen of heaven and you should have a deep concern and love for you fellow citizens. Your kingdom is not of this world.
The world should have no category for us.
People in the world don’t pray for their enemies; God’s people do. The world doesn’t forgive those who have murdered them; God’s people do. The world responds with revenge; God’s people do not. The world doesn’t know how to demand justice and compassion at the same time; God’s people do. In October of 2019, Brandt Jean (a black man) sat in a courtroom looking into the eyes of Amber Guyger (a white woman) who killed his brother. In a memorable moment, he turned to the judge and said, “I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug…please?” He hugged her and called on her to give her life to Christ. The next day on my social media feed, most of the Christians I know (of a variety of ethnicities) said “Wow, I don’t know if I could do that.” Just about every unbeliever that I know or saw, criticized him. While they all gave an honest response to how they felt, it revealed how disconnected we are from the ways of the Kingdom.
What happened in that instant was that many people had no category for Brandt Jean; they didn’t know what to do with him. Brandt was taught by Jesus to “love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44) and America didn’t know what do with him or his actions. In that moment, Brandt didn’t fit it. As you think about all of the pains or this world, remember that we will not fit nice and neatly into the world’s categories. The shoe shouldn’t fit, so please spare yourself the pain that comes with forcing it on.