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True Community is Uncomfortable Community

In light of all that is 2020 – racial tension, a pandemic, police brutality, economic collapse [insert your own] – a well-organized tent city was established in Edmonton. It was both a place of protest and a camp of prayer for those experiencing homelessness. On my visit to the camp, one of the leaders said something that I will never forget: he claimed the prayer camp was a true community. There was harmony and joy, as well as, conflict and general craziness. I was able to experience some of this during my visit. One of the first people I met was an Indigenous person who was in the process of moving homes after a conflict with a neighbour. Later I saw this same person hauling a shopping cart with an army of neighbours to help with the move. Another person offered to give me a tour of the camp, which ended at his tent, his home. His tent was given to him by a friend who had created a little tent neighbourhood prime for move-in. In his new home, we prayed and recited our favourite Bible verses. As I became part of the community of this camp, I felt the truth of it.

At the prayer camp, there were none of these comforts.

This made me wonder about the other communities I am part of – are they true? What I can tell you is that most of them are comfortable. Too comfortable. Brett McCracken wrote a book called Uncomfortable and he argues that our society and our church are enslaved to an idolatry of comfort. We want to be comfortable more than anything else and this has many implications for our communities. The idolatry of comfort makes us want to stay in bubbles with only people like us. It makes us want to be anonymous in our communities; it is afraid of conflict; and it deems necessary the need to be financially stable. At the prayer camp, there were none of these comforts. And maybe that is what made it true.

If I look at the type of communities Jesus dwelled in, they don’t seem very comfortable. Let’s look at one such community in Matthew 26:6. I think I would be a bit sweaty to get an invite to Simon the Leper’s home. After all he had a contagious and potentially deadly disease. I think I would have been embarrassed to see a woman come into the house unannounced and start pouring perfume on Jesus. I would be distressed to realize how much that perfume would have cost (an annual salary!). I would have been almost in tears when Jesus scolded me for judging the woman’s sacrifice. Whatever this community would have been, it would have been far from comfortable. And that is the point. The gospel is uncomfortable. Taking up your cross is certainly not a walk in the park. 

It is a thrust of desperate love which surrenders everything to Jesus

Loving God is uncomfortable. God’s love is not based on our calculated efforts, but only God’s grace. People like Simon and the woman know this and thrust themselves at Jesus’ feet -  not because they are good but because they trust Jesus is good. It is a thrust of desperate love which surrenders everything to Jesus – your pride, your future, your finances, your comfort. 

Loving our neighbours is also uncomfortable. It seems that the disciples of Jesus had absorbed a kind of theology which equated one’s personal sins to one’s suffering in this life. They may have sincerely wanted to care for the poor, however their definition of the poor likely did not include unclean sinners like lepers or this irresponsible, effusive woman. 

Jesus is drawing us to uncomfortable community.

In the fashion of a true community, Jesus uses conflict to bring light to deeper things. First, he likely quotes Deuteronomy 15:11 which says, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward … [the] poor.” Then Jesus says “you will not always have me”.  Just verses before in Matthew 25 there is the famous story and proclamation of Jesus: “Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me.” I believe that this story in Matthew 26 is not contradicting this verse but rather continues it. Jesus is saying, “The poor will always be with you – therefore be openhanded to them; you will not always have me – therefore make sure you recognize me when I am present in the least of these. The least of these are not comfortable people who deserve grace or the anonymous poor out there, but the uncomfortable people right in front of you. This is the true community where I am present.” 

I believe the prayer camp was a true community because Jesus was there. He was present in uncomfortable people, uncomfortable conflict and the uncomfortable gospel which was being proclaimed to me.  So let us be open handed to those in poverty and open hearted to the gospel they help us see. Jesus is drawing us to uncomfortable community and I pray we will be able recognize to him when he comes to our neighborhood. 

Photo provided by the author.

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