Pastor’s Column: How Would Jesus Say Hello

I love the summers here in Minnesota.  Whether it’s the lakes, the bike paths or the running trails, you can find me outside soaking up the weather every day and making the most of the season.  But perhaps my favorite part about a Minnesota summer is how the neighborhood seems to come to life.  People take time for small talk out on the sidewalk, backyard BBQ’s are a daily occurrence, and I come to remember where the phrase “Minnesota Nice” takes root!  Taking the time to see and engage with my neighbors not only brings me great personal joy, but also a profound perspective into the hearts and lives of those who God has called us to know, love and serve.

Here in America we tend to use a one-part greeting.  It starts with “hello” and we expect a simple “hello” back in return.

Here in America we tend to use a one-part greeting.  It starts with “hello” and we expect a simple “hello” back in return.  However, there’s a greeting shared by the Zulu people of South Africa that goes a bit deeper: one person begins the greeting with the word, “Sikhona,” while the other person responds by saying “Sawubona.”  Their words mean much more than a simple “hello” however.  In fact, Sikhona to the best we can translate it into English means “I am here to be seen,” and the response of Sawubona translates, “I see you.”  Though I certainly don’t expect anyone to go walking down their sidewalk greeting their fellow Minnesotan’s by saying, “I am here to be seen,” perhaps we can all just take a moment to appreciate the power in those words.

When I look at the life and ministry of Jesus, I find him always on the lookout for people who he could greet the Zulu way.  In Luke 7:36-50, we find Jesus and his disciples headed to an invite-only dinner at the house of a well-known Pharisee named Simon.  However, a “well-known sinner” in town had somehow gotten into the party uninvited.  But instead of just blending into the background, she did the unthinkable.  She moved forward into the spotlight and kneeled at the feet of the most honored guest – Jesus.  I imagine all of the room was silently staring at her, as she poured out her alabaster jar of perfume on his feet and began to wash them with her own tears.  Simon, the Pharisee who was hosting the party, was confused to say the least…in fact, judgmental and dismissive might be a more accurate term.  He wondered to himself, “How could such a broken and sinful person like her be touching the holy feet of Jesus?”

We can’t miss the weight of how Jesus speaks to Simon next…

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?” (Lk 7:44).

Those are soul piercing words.  Because the way Jesus and Simon see her were worlds apart.

Simon saw her as a sinful interruption.

Jesus saw her as the treasured daughter of His Father.

Simon couldn’t see past what she had done.

Jesus saw who she would become.

In a sense, Jesus greets her with a resounding “Sawubona” that I bet she was longing to hear her entire life.  Jesus saw the depths of her plight and responded from the depths of his love and compassion.  And I think His words to Simon still resonate with us today:  as followers of Jesus, will we see and value all of our neighbors like Jesus does?

I want to see each and every neighbor the way Jesus does. I want to respond in redemptive and transformative ways

Earlier this month, Wooddale Church and TransformMN hosted a special screening of the film, “Love Them First,” which follows the complex journey of the faculty and students of Lucy Laney School in Minneapolis.  If you’re looking for a tangible example of what it looks like to live a life of seeing people the way Jesus does, I encourage you to check out this incredible documentary.  The resilient and faithful work of these educators demonstrates what can happen when we choose to see and engage with the complexity of families living in urban poverty.

The film clearly portrays the redemptive power of Christ’s love and compassion through the work of the faculty at Lucy Laney. There’s a free public premier coming up on Kare 11 on Sept 12 at 8 P.M., and I’d encourage you to watch it with your family, your small group or even your whole church.

For me personally, I want to see each and every neighbor the way Jesus does.  I want to respond in redemptive and transformative ways that show our world the depths of  how much God values each person.  I want to be intentional to say “Sawubona” to the faculty and students at our local public school.  To the new neighbors that just moved in across the street.  To those experiencing homelessness.  To those in sober living communities nearby.  And I’m sure as you’re reading this, you’re already going through your own list of places and people you need to go say “Sawubona” to in your neighborhood!  I pray this Fall would be one of incredible growth for you, your family and your local church as we see and love people like Jesus did.

Trent Palmberg is the Campus Pastor at Wooddale Church Loring Park

August 29, 2019
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