Thursday, December 08, 2005

Boundaries

In downtown Denver there are these free buses that travel up and down the main street. They are a wonderful way to let the crowded downtown area spread out a little without making everyone walk forever to get anywhere. Personally, I enjoy them most at lunch time because it means I can visit restaurants quite a distance from the office with very little effort.

It's been snowing in Denver and very cold. So naturally the buses are a little crowded. The other day I as I was riding the bus I was paying attention to my own behavior as we pulled into a crowded stop. There were a dozen people who wanted on this bus and we were full. As I looked around I thought "Where are they going to fit?" And then right away I felt myself stiffen up. They weren't going to get my space! When they began to push and push I started pushing back. The harder I was pushed, the more effort I put into trying to just stand in my own little space.

Pushing back is natural. It's almost patriotic. The notion that "I've got my space and you can't take it." is fundamental to our culture. In fact, I've heard it referred to as common sense. Just a little preventive measure to ensure that someone doesn't invade your space. Let's face it, you got there first, you should keep your space.

If you consider a while you realize that we carry this behavior with us not just physically but mentally as well. We do it in our families and our jobs and even in our churches. Someone pushes on you, push back.

Of course, that's not how Jesus did it. Zaccheus was in the tree, the crowd was pushing. Instead of pushing him away, Jesus asked to come into his space. The same with the woman at the well, and woman at Simon's dinner party. He invited them into his space and was willing to enter theirs.

The more I've thought about it, the more believe that's one of the reasons people crowded around Jesus so much.  Have you ever met someone who didn't push on you? Who instead said, "Come on in. Share it with me."? Those are the people you want to hang out with. These are the people that don't make you feel guilty, that make you feel accepted.

A good example of how Jesus dealt with boundaries is the story of when Simon had a dinner party. Back then a dinner party was not a closed-door operation. You see, the houses sort of surrounded an open inner patio. They didn’t really use chairs, so they were just lying around on pillows and stretching their feet being comfortable. Because of this openness in the homes of the day, people could walk in, listen to the conversation for a few minutes, and then walk out and continue with their day.

This dinner party is underway and here comes the lady in the story, just wandering in. She kneels down at Jesus' feet, and begins to cry. Then she takes her little vial of perfume, something that many Jewish women carried.  And she pours the whole thing on his feet so that the whole place begins to smell. Then she does one of the most embarrassing and inappropriate things a woman of that culture could do. She pulls the combs out of her hair, and her long hair falls down all over his feet. Finally she begins to wipe her tears and the perfume with her hair.

Okay, so the hair thing doesn't seem like such a big deal to us today, but have to consider it in context. In that day, when a girl got married, she put her hair up, and it never came down again in public. In fact, many married men during that time never saw their wives with their hair down. I'm sure you've heard the expression "Go on, let your hair down!". In those times, it had a richer meaning.

In any case, here this woman is, letting her hair down. Instead of enforcing the boundary and insisting on appropriateness, Jesus allows her into His space. Not only does he allow her into His space, He affirms that she is an important person. The implication is that because she is important to Him, she should be considered the same by everybody at the party.

Jesus broke down the boundaries. We love boundaries. We like boundaries for our property, our space, even with our love. We say, "I can't give my love away. If I give my love away to people like that, it'll run out. I won't have enough for my family or my friends!". The truth is that the more love you give away, the more you've got to give. It always happens that way.

I noticed a funny thing about those buses I ride every day. They are very crowded and you often have to put your hand on the ceiling, because there's not even a strap you can reach. But after you've been riding for a minute or two, you turn your head and notice that in the middle of the train there is plenty of space. Of course, nobody is going to move that way and give up their space.

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