It is hard to over emphasise how counter-cultural Jesus’ ministry was in his day. For example, in the central section of Mark’s gospel (9:30-10:52) there is a rhythm where Jesus’ disciples fail to understand him, Jesus patiently instructs them on the nature of the reign of God, and then they fail him again. Many of these failed understandings relate to the place of the vulnerable in the reign of God, especially women and children.

In one of the best known stories Jesus’ disciples attempt to turn away a group of mothers who are looking for Jesus to bless their children (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus rebukes the disciples and blesses the children. Jesus’ acceptance of women and children, his reframing of divorce and marriage, his healings of those whose suffering made them outcast from the community all point to a particular openness to the vulnerable in the community and a commitment to welcoming them and offering hospitality to them. (These are other important themes of the first three gospels.)

As followers of Jesus, I would contend, we are called to make similar commitments in our own time and place. This commitment includes at very least an openness to listening to the stories of the vulnerable in our own communities. This is not an easy commitment, it asks us to give freely our time. Deep listening will often call into question our own views and values and those that are vulnerable, especially those that have experienced trauma, will often have difficulty in learning to tell their stories. The impact of events and the protective mechanisms that survivors have had to employ to endure can make it challenging to retell and reclaim one’s stories. Offering hospitality, creating safe spaces and making room for people to tell their stories can help in the journey of healing. I do not see the above as replacing the care that professional counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists provide in this context.

The Uniting Church’s commitment to First Peoples in the covenant, our commitment to offering hospitality and learning from those whose background is culturally and linguistically different to ours (CALD communities) and our participation in the National Redress scheme can all be seen as listening to the vulnerable in our community. Similarly our work with refugees and the work many congregations and organisations do in providing help to the poor are further examples.

“Risking the way of Jesus” was a popular phrase in the 1990’s, based on a larger statement by an Assembly group on the meaning of mission. A key part of the risking the way of Jesus will always be sitting with and listening to those who are vulnerable. Remembering that Jesus becoming one of us and one with us commits us to learning from the vulnerable and recognising Jesus’ presence amongst them.

You may find the following resource helpful – especially in listening to the voice of children: