And with [Jesus] they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. (Mark 15:27)
On most days, I don’t believe Jesus minded hanging out with robbers. He didn’t mind the company of sinners and tax collectors. He was OK with lepers, blue-collar fishermen, Samaritans, Canaanites and Gentile hog-farmers. He was just one of the guys, or as the Old Testament put it, “numbered with the transgressors.” When the Word became flesh to dwell among us, “us” included these two criminals who were crucified that day with Jesus.
These two men might never have met Jesus were it not for their shared sentence. Jesus didn’t spend time with those on death row. Not until today, the day of their execution, their last day alive.
A lot of people are never exposed to Jesus except through their shared experiences with us. It could be waiting in line for movie tickets. It could be waiting to see the doctor about our back pain. It could be at the barber shop, when we’ve had a fender-bender, attending a kid’s t-ball game, or waiting in court to contest a ticket. Never take such encounters for granted. You may be there so someone can get a taste of Christ’s mercy, forgiveness, compassion or love.
Or, perhaps you’re the one who needs to encounter Christ as you suffer consequences for your actions. Understanding folks at the body shop when you have to get a self-inflicted dent pulled out of your car door. Or a forgiving soul you’ve hurt deeply because you spoke without thinking. Faithful worshipers who return the following week after a really bad sermon.
Jesus in the middle of our messes is a game-changing concept. When you realize your performance neither attracts nor repels Jesus, you can’t help but think deeply about your Lord and your life. Jesus doesn’t come to give a medal, nor does he come to send us to time out. He just comes to be with us, on our best days and our worst days.
So when you don’t know what to say to someone, that’s OK. Just be there with them. By the same token, even if you aren’t in the mood for company, let others be with you. The love of Jesus has a way of showing up in the right place at the right time for just the right people.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your son, who was appropriately called Emmanuel, that is, “God with us.” Thanks for Jesus in the middle of my mess. Amen.