CP: How did Jesus model true community?
Battaglia: I started with the premise of what are the distinguishing characteristics of those who would be called Jesus' disciples?
They would be like salt, to flavor and act as a preservative to society. And they would be like light, to illumine the beauty and presence of God in this world and to dispel the darkness that blinds people to all that is good in the world. In essence, His disciples are supposed to be in the world — intersecting, involved, sweaty — so that people can sense their presence by the aroma of a good deed, a helping hand, and a smile. A kind word spoken spontaneously and with sincerity reverberates endlessly in the heart of the one who receives it. This doesn't happen in a virtual environment.
Then, I wanted to look at several familiar stories in Scripture to identify what true community looks like. We're all familiar with the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1–11).
Her accusers bring her to Jesus as another opportunity to entrap Him on whether He agrees with what the Jewish law at that time said should happen to women in these cases. I can only imagine the smugness with which they asked Jesus that question.
We often use this story in the context of not being too quick to judge anyone, quoting this verse: "Let any one of you is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (v. 7). After her accusers slipped away, Jesus said to the woman, "Go now and leave your life of sin" (v. 11). His words serve as a simple but powerful encounter that transformed her life.
Those words can transform our lives too if we realize what Jesus is saying to us.
Now there's another twist to this story that we often miss, one that introduces a necessary ingredient for what true community looks like: Community is more about redemption than it ever is about judgment. Yes, redemption. And redemption happens best, and primarily, with intersection. When I come in contact with another in some context that requires forgive- ness, I establish a connection that can change both lives forever. Redemption then has a chance to happen.
Here's the distinction I want to make about the difference between true community and what we find on the internet or in other transactions that do not allow us access to individuals where we can feel their pain.
The internet is like the religious leaders with the stones in their hand. That environment breeds accusers. True community, on the other hand, is about redemption. It's that simple. The internet is a proven breeding ground for creating those who would be judge, jury, and executioner. That's easy to do online — harder to do in person.
CP: What was the greatest example of community in Scripture?
Battaglia: Well, I believe that one of the greatest examples of what a community looks and feels like is found in John's Gospel. If you really want a living, breathing example of true community, then Jesus' words as He addresses His disciples before the crucifixion may be one such an example. He begins by giving us an interesting perspective. Although community to most of us implies many, Jesus boils it down to community best defined as one. Not many. Listen to His words: "All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. ... Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one" (John 17:10–11).
Jesus has built this amazing community of disciples over three years. He could have asked anything from His Father on their behalf, yet He asks only that they be one. There is something powerful about many becoming one.
Now where have you heard that statement before?
As mentioned earlier, if you look on the back of U.S. currency and coins, you'll find the Latin motto for our country, E pluribus unum, or "one from many." The strength of the United States of America has always been one from many. It has succeeded because it followed a principle born in the heavens, where true community started in the form of the Trinity. In the language of heaven, one is not singular. One is plural.
Two chapters earlier, in John 15, Jesus is talking to His disciples about another aspect of true community:
"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one that this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." (vv. 9–13)
In these passages, Jesus is laying down the benchmark of not only what His community of believers would look like, but what a true community would look like as well. The two things that would be evident in the character of a community are love and joy. Two of the very things we find sorely missing from much of the social-media interaction of our day.
The opening verse of John's Gospel states, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Darby Translation goes on to say, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (v. 14). So what was the Word before that?
I'd like to suggest that Jesus' appearance on the scene exhibited another glorious by-product of God's heart for humankind — to model the original community embodied in the Trinity, and what people could expect that community to look like when divinity is fleshed out. Jesus gave us a sneak peek of what heaven on earth would look like in His prayer in Matthew 6. We all know it as the "Our Father" or the Lord's Prayer. It starts off simply enough: "Our Father which art in heaven" (v. 9 KJV). Then it takes off from there to reveal some- thing truly profound.
This simple prayer gives us a glimpse of the heavenly modus operandi for enjoying a quality of life here on earth. Jesus meant to have us look outside ourselves and beyond our circumstances to God's heavenly kingdom as the focal point for understanding earthly existence. What a mystery, and an opportunity, that we can experience that same kind of relationship now on earth as in heaven (v. 10).