What is your ZIP code? The postal code in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, is 1613101. Have you ever thought about Jesus’ ZIP code before? I hadn’t—until recently!
John 1:14 reminds us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us. . . .” In The Message, that text is paraphrased this way: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
What does it mean to us that Jesus moved into the neighborhood?
This question, posed to those gathered for Christian Citizenship Seminar 2021 by pastor and author José Humphries, is both age-old and fresh. God sending Jesus to our physical world, in human flesh-and-blood form, grounds Christian understanding. Yet connecting the idea of Jesus moving into a neighborhood with the reality of a ZIP code sparked my imagination anew.
Our hearts warm with the idea of helping a neighbor. We have the theological heritage, a legacy of witness, and official statements encouraging the broad Brethren understanding of “neighbor,” which of course includes the literal definition of “the person(s) living beside you.”
Our history of presence in predominantly rural areas has created several generations of us who have naturally engaged economic justice practices—whether consciously or not. Our grandparents supported small, local businesses because that was the only option; chain restaurants and big box stores are only interested in certain kinds of locations, and “rural” is not one of them. People consumed locally produced food because it came from their own gardens and farms.
But things are different today, aren’t they?
More of us (both Brethren and the US population in general) are living in urban or suburban areas. Fewer of us produce our own food—or know those who did. We make purchasing decisions based on free shipping and/or delivery, as well as cheap prices. Too often, we favor convenience over our values.
Made astoundingly clear by the pandemic, we affect our neighbors through our actions. We have daily reminders of how individual choice compounds into large-scale response. No matter where you live, the choices you make with your resources matter.
Economic justice can involve rather complex domestic and international policy, but individuals making choices “for the glory of God and my neighbor’s good” are also powerful witnesses. Individuals are empowered to make rapid, holistic change in their own decisions.
How then, should we live?
Pastor José suggests that we show up, stay put, and see. Jesus showed up, physically, in a lot of places. He shared meals with people and visited friends. He put clothes on his body and sandals on his feet. He walked places and talked to people. He literally showed up, and so should we (individually and as communities).
Staying put also challenges us, despite its simplicity. Learning new things about God’s people and God’s creation through travel forms us in important ways; so does staying put. How does your community rely on you—literally? How are you partnering with God to restore the breaches?
Finally, when we show up and stay put, what does God allow us to see differently? When we are committed to a place and its people, how does God call us to mend the brokenness?
As you observe things around you, you might notice what your community has and doesn’t have (this is called community asset mapping). You might wonder about all the people who’ve lost jobs in the past year, especially in your congregation or community. Who is suffering? What small and big things can be done to lessen suffering?
As we seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world today, may you find the courage to show up, the endurance to stay put, and the desire to see things as God might see them.
Becky Ullom Naugle is director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Church of the Brethren.