Jean Vanier

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Jean Vanier is one of my heroes and has become one of the most influential people in my life. Here’s the crazy part. Eight months ago, I didn’t even know who he was. He was just starting to reach me with his radical message of love and discipleship. I had already determined that I was going to travel to Harvard where he frequently spoke to standing-room-only crowds. I wanted to see him…to hear him. And then, five weeks ago, I opened up the Washington Post, saw his picture and learned that he passed away. My new hero was gone…but not before he planted a seed deep into my heart.

In his book, From Brokenness to Community, Jean talked about the process of bringing value to devalued people. He spent the bulk of his life serving the community of people with developmental disabilities. His story is amazing. But as I read the book, I was convicted of my lack of care for another group of devalued people…the people who will never come to my church, or anyone’s church…ever.

I know. That sounds horrible. But it’s true. I’ve spent my life working on the church, trying to make it better so that everyone would show up. And if I am really being truthful, I made the unconscious decision that the people who would not show up were just not going to be part of my world. So they weren’t.

The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people…this is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2) Here is Vanier’s response to this passage of Scripture:

We can’t see everyone saved if we don’t know anyone!

My response to both is, “I need to be with people who will never fit the mold that my church life has created.”

Vanier goes on to show what that looked like in the life of Jesus through these three processes:

  1. Compassion – Jesus loved people…all people. He looked at the worst of the worst and simply loved them.
  2. Communion – this is not the grape juice and cracker type of communion that I grew up with. This is the kind of communion that says, “I will walk with you. Jesus looked at Zacchaeus and said, “I must stay at your house today.” This was mind-blowing that a Jewish rabbi would even talk to a tax collector much less spend the day at his house. It was so startling that Zach almost fell out of the tree, and by the time his feet hit the ground, he had given half of his possessions to the poor.

 Once you have shown that you love people and want to walk with them through life, you get to move to the final phase that Vanier talks about…

  1. Community – The heart of community says, “I will live with you.” This is where real life change takes place. It involves accountability. It involves dying to one’s self. We tend to want to take people to this place without walking with them in communion. Community without communion places agenda over love.

“Thank you, Jean. Though we never met, you led me to a bright horizon by pointing me to Jesus!”