"Mom, is there anybody you won’t talk to?" This was a question my girls would ask when they were young. We’d go into the store, and I would invariably strike up a conversation with someone in the checkout line or parking lot. I never gave it much thought. I just liked connecting with people.
Several years ago I was required to undergo psychological testing as a precursor to a job I applied for. One of the tests came from a book, "Strengths Finder 2.0" written by Tom Rath. It was a very new test at the time.
Not surprising to me, I scored very high in the area of "woo." Woo is the ability to win others over. It’s about connecting with others and involves the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. Good trait for a pastoral/preacher type to have.
Jesus thought it was a good trait for all his followers.
In Matthew 18, Jesus responds to a question posed by his disciples: "Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" I think they were hoping he would say it was them and not the religious establishment. Jesus turns, however, and picks up a child. Not what they were expecting — or even able to comprehend.
The disciples and followers of Jesus were constantly taken aback when his teachings and behaviors didn’t match up to their desires for the Messiah. He wasn’t what they were looking for ... but exactly what they needed.
They were focused on themselves, their plans and dreams, and wanting to distance themselves from others — so they would come out on top. Jesus was about reaching out to others, about loving the unlovely, about connecting with the disenfranchised. This was his mission before he even arrived (for background check out Isaiah 58 and 61, and Jesus’ first sermon in Luke 4).
Jesus’ response to their "greatest" question contained some strong words of warning. Each one began with "woe." Woe unto those who are so caught up in themselves that their behavior causes anyone to stumble. Woe unto those whose selfishness and self-serving behavior drives anyone away.
For Jesus the better behavior would be a wooing behavior — a drawing behavior. The kind of living and loving that is welcoming and warm.
I don’t know about you, but I find that behavior as rare as a sunny day in Ohio recently. Our lives have been inundated with a divisiveness that is far from wooing. We live in a time when offering a cool cup of water, a tender word and a moment of connection would go a long way to bring someone into the fullness of the kingdom.
These days we need less "childishness" (self-seeking) and more child-likeness (open and trusting). I know I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Jesus’ "woe." The world watches and wants a whole lot more wooing from those of us who claim to follow the ways of Jesus.
Let’s get wooing.
Tina M. Hunt is the pastor for Ashland First Church of the Brethren