If asked to identify a favorite New Testament character, most of us would go with names like Peter, John, Mary, Barnabas, Lydia, Timothy, Phoebe. You know the list.
My choice these days might be Jason. Really.
Although an obscure character in Scripture, Jason for me is a reminder of an important truth about church health.
His name appears in the first nine verses of Acts 17. He lived in northern Greece in Thessalonica. Paul and Silas come through town on one of their missionary journeys. They make great headway at the local synagogue, persuading many Jews and devout Greeks “and not a few of the leading women.” Their success, however, is not well received by the synagogue leaders, so a band of ruffians is hired to find Paul and Silas and run them out of town.
In the midst of the search, the posse shows up at Jason’s house and drags Jason and some other believers before the city authorities. In verse 6, a telling charge is made: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests.”
Jason bonds out of jail, and Paul and Silas escapes the vigilantes.
At that point Jason disappears from the pages of the New Testament. However, his spirit lingers on. His risky bed-and-breakfast served as a key link in the spread of a Gospel message that reversed the established order of the day and heralded a new way of thinking and believing about God.
Hosting those who bring a new, upside-down day is always risky business. In the 21st century, this hosting can take the form of considering an idea, proposing a new method, suggesting an alternative solution or raising a key question. Sometimes hosting takes the form of saying what everyone is thinking but no one is willing to say. Upside-down ideas are those which challenge the established order or way of thinking – including common assumptions about how to be a church. Healthy churches need to have a steady diet of hard conversations about such ideas. If not, they will grow rigid and inflexible, and run the risk of missing the movement of the Spirit.
Even so, this approach is easier said than done. The established order may give lip service to wanting change and innovation, but the truth is most of us find change offensive and obtrusive. The way we do things brings some order to the chaos of our life and enables us to avoid the surprises that fill most of our days at work and at home. Those who bring or suggest change are often labeled as troublemakers or misfits and their ideas dismissed as unreasonable.
“Upside-down ideas are those which challenge the established order or way of thinking – including common assumptions about how to be a church.”
Some days our church is the one place we can go that reminds us of how life used to be – and we cling to that fading dream with a vengeance.
The spirit of Jason is one of adventure and a willingness to embrace the possibility of the new. His world was turned upside-down by these Gospel messengers and by the revolutionary person they gave witness to.
Jesus, after all, spent much of his teaching time upending the commonly held perceptions of his day.
Instead of leadership being determined by position and power, Jesus suggested that the true leader is a servant first.
Instead of power being the avenue through which God works, he suggested it is weakness.
Instead of finding our life by holding onto it, he suggested we find life when we lose our life.
Instead of the rich receiving God’s blessing, he called the poor blessed.
Instead of loving self and looking to our needs first, he suggested loving our neighbor and seeking God’s kingdom first.
Then and now, Jesus inspires his followers with upside-down thinking and acting. Our world will surely resist that radical approach now, much like his world did then. Our goal must be to be among those who are accused of harboring such radical ideas and hosting such dangerous possibilities. Turning the world upside down was hard work then, and it is hard work today. In the end, upside-down was what brought abundant life and unconditional love to a world desperately in need of both.
The next time you are asked to name your New Testament heroes, consider Jason and his upside-down world. Even more, consider adopting his spirit and enabling your world – and maybe your church – to be turned upside-down!