- Ray Hollenbach
And then there’s the time my bad hearing caused three bruises on my arm. I was standing in front of a judge, trying to talk my way out of a speeding ticket. At the very end of the conversation, the judge said something, but I couldn’t understand her. I thought she wanted me to step closer. I took two steps forward when suddenly the bailiff grabbed my arm and pulled me to the side. The next day, three bruises blossomed on my arm where the guard had grabbed me. I didn’t get out of the ticket. Go ahead: Just try to get close to someone important. Movie stars and athletes have their handlers. Politicians have armed guards. CEOs are shielded from phone calls and emails, and sit in corner offices you cannot reach by a public elevator. In our day, one of the markers of leadership is in-accessibility. Not so with Jesus. Yes, I know—it was a different place and time. But the important people of his day were equally distant. Caesar had his armies. Pilate had his centurions. The High Priest of Israel was surrounded by his religious associates and armed guards. Each of these men had the power to summon others before them, and each had the ability to hold anyone at a distance. Jesus accurately described his century—and ours—when he said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” The gospels reveal a remarkably accessible Lord. A sick and elderly woman could press through the crowd and touch him. A woman of questionable character could crash a dinner party and weep at his feet. Lepers had access. A desperate father could bow before him. Even when Jesus wanted to slip away for some private moments, the crowd would follow him—and he would feed thousands. Matthew’s gospel reveals his openness from first to last: At the beginning of the gospel, Jesus is labeled “Immanuel,” God with us. In the very final chapter, even as Jesus is leaving the planet, he makes this promise. “Surely I am with you always ... ” Here is a staggering revelation: The very one with all authority in heaven and earth is also the one who is always available. He will allow nothing to keep him from us. Not the powers of this world, nor the rules of religion, nor even our own wayward, screwed-up lives. In the words of some eloquent speaker, “Jesus left the most exclusive gated-community in all creation in order to be with us.” Nor is this a history lesson—it’s true today as well. The lessons of his accessibility are two-fold. First, who can keep us from the love of God? The Apostle Paul runs out of words when he tries to describe God’s open-door policy. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” Not even the violence and cruelty of others can keep him away. Second, Jesus demonstrated that true leadership is about presence, not authority. Though he had all authority, he chose instead to be with us. One of the tests of leadership is the grace to endure countless interruptions, because we serve those we lead. What Jesus does supernaturally, he first did day-to-day. He was with us. And he is still.