By Courtney Lott –
“Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:21)
It’s the simplest phrase tacked on to the end of a letter. One we possibly pass by quickly, viewing it as a nice sentiment, and little else. We may even believe it’s a command easily and painlessly applied to our lives. Definitely not one that needs a closer look.
Sure. I’ll say hello to the people at my church. Box checked. Dust off hands. Done. Here in Texas, we pride ourselves on welcome, after all. It’s deeply ingrained in our culture. Even in the big cities and traffic jams, strangers wave to each other, smile (which has been a lot more difficult while wearing masks during COVID!)
But is it really so simple?
A box easily ticked off? A bland sentiment? Or does it dig deep into what it means to be part of the bride of Christ? Considering the fact that Paul uses it in the closing of multiple letters to multiple churches, chances are, it’s not a simple admonishment we ought to skim over.
Beyond the literal meaning of the Greek word for “greet” — “welcome” — the heart of the concept strikes deep to a desire ingrained in all of us: to not only be acknowledged by others, but to be welcomed in, to be seen without filters and still accepted. For a moment of eye-contact, a genuine question after one’s well-being, true interest in what makes you a unique image bearer.
Throughout my childhood, I often felt brushed aside. I was weird. I’m still weird. My overactive imagination — and sensitive spirit — categorized me as an oddball most of my peers either avoided or teased. I usually didn’t feel welcome at school, and at one point, begged my mom to teach me at home so I could avoid these painful interactions.
This lack of greeting left me with a deep sense that I didn’t belong, that no one wanted me around, and that there was something innately wrong with who I was. I hid myself away in books and stories, seeking out an imaginary community where I was accepted fully, weirdness and all.
I prayed nightly for a friend. For one who loved me as David loved Jonathan. Someone whose soul knit itself to mine. I have distinct memories of asking God to send me a peer who would not only share in my similar interests, laugh with me, cry with me, but who would call me out on things, make me better.
Then, in junior high of all places, the youth of my church opened their arms to me. In our mutual awkwardness of puberty, pimples, and prepubescent pensiveness, we found community with each other as we played stupid messy games and — still sticky with random food items — delved into the pages of scripture.
For the first time in my entire life — inside and out of the four walls of a church building — I found a sense of home, belonging, purpose. This simple act of kindness didn’t heal all of my insecurities, most of which still live in my heart as ugly weeds, but it healed much within me, strengthened me to do the same for others.
Thus empowered, making others feel welcome became a large part of my mission in life. It hasn’t always been easy. My own insecurities sometimes still tempt me to sidestep “weirdos” lest my association with them make me unwelcome again. When this temptation comes, I have to remind myself of what has been done for me, of my own little story of social salvation.
My experience hardly reflects the intense sense of misery others have experienced when it comes to rejection. Those who have experienced racism or discrimination due to their sexuality have suffered deeply and in ways I can’t even begin to imagine. The path they walk is a unique kind of pain I’m not familiar with.
The solution to our problems, however, looks very similar, and it’s found in this beautiful verse. Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. Greeting someone affirms the dignity already present in our fellow image bearers. It acknowledges that we are all messed up, but that if Jesus can love us that way, we can love each other that way as well.
Sometimes, like the religious leaders in Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan, we sidestep those we view as “unclean.” As if their unique brand of sin will rub off on us if we get too close. When we are tempted to fall into this, we are called to remember how Jesus dealt with the “unclean.”
He touched lepers, curing them of their disease. He gripped the hands of those long dead, filling them again with life. He cleaned his disciples’ nasty feet. Jesus drew near to those everyone else would have avoided, in a sense, welcoming those no one else would. He did what the rest of us couldn’t do.
If anyone else embraced one of these, they wouldn’t be able to enter the temple, to step foot near the presence of YAHWEH. But Jesus’ simple touch cleansed, healed. Ultimately, he became unclean for us, making a way for us to approach the Holy God of the universe.
By his wounds we are healed.
By his uncleanness, we are made clean.
By his welcome, we are welcomed.
May we go and do likewise.
Courtney Lott is the editorial assitant at Good News.