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Recently I was reading Donald Spoto’s book Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi, in which he recounts the difficult life of a man who has been much revered in the nearly 800 years since his death. Spoto tells the story of a Christmas, not long before the death of Francis, in which he arranged for a live nativity scene in one of the churches where he often preached. Such scenes were common in Francis’ day, as they are now, but what set Francis’s tableau apart from common practice was that Francis recruited not the wealthy and important of the local village but common people who attended the church.
Over and over, Francis communicated that God cares equally about the common people and those that the world would call important. For Francis, the powerful were on the same level as those who held no influence. Francis’ life was dedicated to this truth, and he demonstrated this by shunning wealth and position, a stand misunderstood by many, even his closest followers. No one seemed to be able to understand why Francis rejected what the culture around him so eagerly embraced.
It’s a lesson that many of us, including Christian leaders, need to learn in the 21st century. The church and the Christian life are not about achieving position or influence. Rather, serving Jesus with our lives means serving the people that he loved, the people that he spent his life serving, many of whom the world tends to ignore.
The lesson that Francis taught the world around him is one that I’m trying to learn this Christmas. Jesus entered the world among people with poor in position, poor in belongings, poor in influence, but he chose these people because they were willing to listen.