It was a chance encounter. I was in a post office, sending a package and buying stamps. After I received and paid for the items, I said to the clerk, “Have a good day.”
“And don’t let anyone take it from you,” he replied.
His response was one that I needed that day. That phrase, “Don’t let anyone take it from you,” worked on me throughout the week. What would it mean for me to not let anyone take a good day from me? That phrase evolved into the charge that I used at the end of every worship service: “You are a child of God and don’t let anyone take it from you. And remember that everyone else is a child of God, and don’t take it from them.” In our divided times, where hate speech is everywhere, the charge has become meaningful to those with whom I share worship. An encounter can be brief and significant.
As the Merriman-Webster Dictionary defines it, an encounter is “to come upon face-to-face; to come upon or experience, especially unexpectedly.” The word can be used as both a verb and a noun.
In Olive Mahabir’s Sacred Encounters study of Luke and Acts, encounters with Jesus involve action. Jesus is active, alive, healing and powerful. Often the people who are encountered by Jesus are ordinary or those on the margins of society. As Mahabir describes the study, “Luke presents a radical, inclusive and hope-filled message to his community and highlights the universal scope of Jesus’s message and the inclusivity of God’s love and salvation” (italics mine).
“Luke presents a radical, inclusive and hope-filled message to his community and high-lights the universal scope of Jesus’s message and the inclusivity of God’s love and salvation.” — Olive Mahabir
“Radical” is not a word that we usually use to describe our relationships with Jesus or our communities of faith. However, if taken seriously, Jesus is radical. The word, “radical,” has multiple meanings in biology, mathematics, linguistics, illness and human behavior. In terms of plants, a radical is that which grows from the root of a plant. Radical surgery, like a mastectomy, removes the root of the disease. A radical idea or person is one that challenges conventional wisdom or pushes it to an extreme.
Jesus Christ in Luke and Acts is radical. He is fundamentally rooted in the life of God. His presence emanates from the Godhead. Jesus is fully God in love and will and fully human — a concept that is still a stumbling block to many people. Jesus radically includes and reaches out to people who were shunned, excluded and sometimes cut off from the human community. Among those who encounter Christ in our study are a mentally ill man, a person with leprosy, a Black eunuch, and a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years.
In each story in Sacred Encounters, there is radical transformation because of the healing power of God in Jesus and later in the healing power of God in the disciples. A long-infertile woman is able to conceive. A raging lunatic is brought into his right mind. A constantly hemorrhaging woman who has used all her funds on doctors is healed. A woman sits at Jesus’ feet and is treated just like a male disciple. An untouchable person with leprosy is touched by Jesus, who does not fear the diseased person. The heart of a wealthy Gentile woman is opened by God to Christ and she welcomes Paul and his companions into her home.
In each chapter, Mahabir asks us questions that probe us and invite us to reflect on how these stories apply to our lives.
In each chapter, Mahabir asks us questions that probe us and invite us to reflect on how these stories apply to our lives. She asks, among other things:
- “What are some practical ways that you could allow God to do extraordinary things in your life?”
- “How can you encourage people of all ages to study the Bible daily and weekly?”
- “What are some of the dangers in trying to understand the Scriptures on your own?”
- “How is the act of baptism a sacred encounter in the church today?”
- How do illnesses or diseases in our current culture compare to leprosy?
- “Who are the unloved outsiders of your congregation or your community?”
I have loved the Gospel of Luke for a very long time. In this Gospel, I have seen myself. Through it, Christ has come to me and brought healing and transformation. For Jesus’ friend Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet meant that I might consider ordained ministry. In writing myself into the story of the man possessed by demons, I imagined myself as the man. When the healed man asks to go with Jesus, my longing to be with Jesus was powerfully awakened. May all of us be blessed to find ourselves in the stories of Luke and Acts and find ourselves encountered by Christ.
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