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Jesus Showed Courage of Identity and Connection

Creating change requires a clear identity and a connection to people with whom we disagree. It requires, in a word, courage.

Arrested, sentenced to prison and hard labor for many years, taken from his family and ostracized by his culture, he endured with grace and dignity. Now, as a result of seismic cultural and political changes for which he prayed and worked, he is senior pastor of a church with 8,000 worshippers.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
The day I met him, his arms were aching from having baptized 300 new Christians the day before. No bitterness, no malice, just an undying love for God and the people around him.   
Creating change requires a clear identity and a connection to people with whom we disagree. It requires, in a word, courage. 
Clarity about our identity, whether as an individual, family or church, is essential to courage. Truly courageous people and churches have engaged in some sort of self-definition, and that clear sense of identity fuels their courage.  
On the other hand, those who simply define themselves and act boldly—without efforts to connect with others—will eventually find themselves alone.

One of our most courageous acts may be to remain connected, even to our opponents. Enduring despite differences requires a guiding vision and commitment. It means ending family quarrels by taking the initiative. It means being proactive about unspoken conflicts and resentments at work. It means hanging tough with friends when they take us for granted, ignore us or antagonize us deliberately.  
For a church, it means maintaining a commitment to unreached people—despite their indifference.   
This balance, between separateness and closeness, of being distinct without being distant, is the basis for diverse and healthy communities, fellowships and relationships. 
Matthews 21 records several events in Jesus’ life that illustrate his courage to be clear about who he was, yet remain connected. 
Jesus’ dramatic entry to town on Palm Sunday drew many people determined to treat him like royalty. Such a high-profile arrival resulted in “turmoil” across the city. The Greek word for turmoil, seismos, implies shaking, agitation or great calamity. Matthew used it elsewhere in his account to describe the physical shaking of the earth when Jesus died and when the stone was rolled back from the tomb.  
He uses it here to tell us that this unique man shook the city, its temple and all its traditions to the core. What kind of a man could shake a city with such power? 
That was the question on everyone’s lips as they asked, “Who is this?” Jesus answered them clearly. Moving to the temple, he identified himself as the owner of the property: “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.”  
By quoting from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />7:11, Jesus aligned himself with Israel’s prophetic traditions. He courageously claimed divine authority for instituting much-needed change in the temple and among the people. His actions were courageous, as he overturned the tables and seats of those who had compromised holy things.  
Clarity—about who he was and what he came to do—fueled Jesus’ righteous indignation at a world that had wandered far from God’s intention. 
Matthew followed Jesus’ self-defining moment with a scene where Jesus was swarmed by those who loved him most: the blind, the lame and the children. Self-definition and clarity of purpose are attractive precisely because so few people have the courage to be who God intends them to be. Jesus’ courage was and is a magnet to a world in search of someone to believe in and follow.

Jesus returned to the temple the following day. For all the courage needed to overturn people’s tables, it was perhaps even more courageous for him to return to the scene a day later.  
He arrived to teach and immediately was asked again about his identity. He responded with a riddle that threw the authorities into an argument. Rather than answer them directly, he told two parables that left little doubt about who he was and who he believed they were. In the end, they were as clear about his message as he was.  
Jesus’ return to the temple is a graphic example of remaining connected to those with whom we disagree. Courageous leadership requires more than raw emotion and physical acts of defiance. Effecting change requires a willingness to stay connected and to see the change through.  
One day earlier, Jesus had not been interested in cerebral arguments about the condition of the temple, instead relying on courageous action to draw attention to the problem. But on the second day, Jesus engaged his opponents in a fair, thoughtful manner that revealed a confidence born of self-definition.  
His ability to translate courage into connected relationships, as well as acts of bravery, is an example many have sought to emulate across the centuries. 
May the church follow Jesus, balancing courage and zeal with a commitment to remain connected. Such is the pattern of those who effect genuine change and influence the culture for the good of the Kingdom.  
This column was adapted from the Sunday School lesson “Jesus: The Courage of Connection and Clarity” by Bill Wilson, pastor, FirstBaptistChurch, Waynesboro, Va. The lesson appears in Courageous Churches, an online curriculum from Acacia Resources.