Identity in community

Hear the parable of the Lego. Each piece has its own identity, but its meaning is found in how it fits together with others.

I know that’s not how our culture sees it. We tend to focus on building our own individual identity. Why? That’s where our science has led us.

For 500 years, science has contributed to our knowledge by pulling things apart, breaking them down into their component parts (analysis). That’s great, but the job isn’t complete until we learn how to put them back together again (synthesis).

I learned that as a teenager with a borrowed soldering iron. Taking the radio apart was the easy bit; I never did get all the pieces back together. That’s especially true of living things. You can learn quite a bit by dissecting a frog, but it isn’t much good for the frog.

Modernity has taught us to value individual identity. No one else defines me. Life is about being the best me I can be. But that leaves us wondering about our significance, feeling incomplete, yearning for connection, longing to be understood, feeling unknown, always searching, never satisfied. We feel depressed in our isolation, and anxious about being with others.

Community is costly. If you don’t value Medicare or support for those who can’t work, you may resent the taxes the community takes from you. And you might not enjoy the effort it takes to look after aged relatives or neighbours.

Truth is, you never find your life unless you give it. Individual selves have no more meaning that scattered Lego pieces. Relationships cannot last if I discard you when it no longer feels good for me, but is faithful love worth what it costs?

Let’s put that question to Jesus. Picture him sitting at a meal with his twelve closest friends, the people he trusted his life to. He’s not looking at anyone in particular when he shares how much he’s hurting: Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me (Matthew 26:21). Is love too costly?

His friends are shocked. Hear each one in turn ask, Surely you don’t mean me, Lord? (26:22).

You might expect Jesus to back away from the table, rise to his full height over them, and point out the culprit. Instead, he finds the moment when Judas leans forward to dip his bread, and Jesus leans in to join him. Judas is uncomfortable with Jesus’ closeness, those eyes looking straight into Judas’ heart. He tries to sound like the others, Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi? (26:25).

What you said, was Jesus’ reply (26:25). I think Jesus was looking for any opportunity to connect with Judas, while Judas was looking for an opportunity to hand him over (26:16).

If you’ve known deep hurt — being betrayed by someone you loved and trusted with your life — I encourage you to join Jesus at the table. Ask him, “Was it worth it to love like that?” Hear his heart. Trust him with your pain. See how he responds. Instead of running from the table, Jesus continues serving them, even when it feels like he’s giving them his body, his blood (26:26-28).

Love establishes community. Jesus was looking forward to the community we would become in his care, Father’s kingdom (26:29).

I know kingdom is not a popular message for a generation that worships personal autonomy. But it is the good news of a world set right in God’s anointed ruler. The paradox is that if you save your life for yourself, you lose it. You only discover life as you give yourself for something bigger than yourself, a world restored under Heaven.

That’s why the gospel cannot be an invitation to accept a personal saviour who forgives your personal sins while you can get on with living for yourself. The gospel calls us to find fresh ways to express God’s loving reign as the fabric of the society we were designed for.

The kingdom of God isn’t a Lego project. It’s a love project. All the pieces fit together in him (Colossians 3:14-15).

Open Matthew 26:20-29.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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