Inspired by a sermon from Dr. Tim McConnell of First Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs, yesterday, I’ve been thinking of applications to present-day issues we are facing here in the USA.
The text Tim preached on was Luke 8:40-56, and involves two encounters with Jesus, one nested inside the other. Jairus, a synagogue president, approaches Jesus in the midst of a large crowd and falls to his knees begging for help. His twelve-year old daughter is near death, and he is helpless to save her, even with all his prestige, power and influence. He asks Jesus to come to his home and rescue her. Jesus agrees to go. While on the way, a poor woman who had been suffering for twelve years with constant uterine bleeding sneaks up behind Jesus, believing that somehow if she can in anonymity just touch the fringe of his garment, she will be healed. She does, and is. But Jesus senses that power has gone out from him to heal someone, and he stops to find out whom. Finally, when it is clear that Jesus won’t budge until the healed person comes forward, the woman confesses her actions and subsequent healing. Jesus speaks tenderly to her, and confirms her wholeness, not just physically, but emotionally and socially. No longer does she have to live as a shameful outcast, unable to touch others for fear of ritually contaminating them. No longer is she walled off from the community, nor impoverished by using up resources to treat her chronic condition.
While all this is going on, Jairus has been waiting, no doubt with fear and impatience watching the proverbial clock tick. Then the scene he has dreaded takes place. An envoy from his home appears with the heartbreaking news: “Don’t bother Jesus any longer. Your daughter has died.” But Jesus speaks into Jairus’ looming despair and pulls him back from darkness, “Don’t be afraid; trust me; your daughter will be well.” Bringing Jairus and his wife, and Peter, James and John into the room of the beloved daughter, Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her back to life.
So much could be said about these encounters, but one point Tim brought out that has stirred my thinking is that though both Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood came from very different positions in life, they both were desperately needy human beings, and Jesus meets them at their point of need. Jairus was well-to-do, highly respected, powerful in his local community, privileged. The woman on the other hand was poor (having spent all her resources on medical help, to no avail), isolated from contact with others, ashamed of her status before God. Yet Jesus treats them both with compassion and dignity. Why? And how does he find the love to minister equally graciously to both these individuals at opposite ends of the social spectrum?
These are critical questions to answer, for our society today is being rocked with racial animus, hatred toward “the privileged one percenters” and the police, divisions between left and right, closed borders or open ones, patriotic Muslims versus Islamic terrorists. In the midst of all our divisions we are finding it increasingly difficult to treat each other with civility, much less kindness and compassion. So how did Jesus do it?
Well, Jesus is Jesus, of course. But even so, he operated according to the mindset he revealed throughout the Old and New Testaments. So first of all, he sees all human beings according to God’s original intentions – as those created in the image and likeness of God, as those bearing God’s own likeness in their capacity to love and be loved, to give and receive, to use their creativity for the betterment of the created order, to bless what is good and to shun what is evil.
Secondly, he sees human beings as fallen, vulnerable, lost and wounded persons due to the effects of our willful separation from God over the course of human history. We are like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless, and Jesus’ heart of compassion goes out unstintingly to all.
So in the case of the poor woman, Jesus does not see her impoverishment as defining who she is, nor her ritual impurity as an impediment, nor her social shame as disqualifying. Instead, he sees a human being, precious because she was created in the image and likeness of God, and he desires to make her whole, as his Father originally intended her to live. As God the Son, he is able to bring about his Father’s will.
Likewise, with Jairus the synagogue ruler, Jesus does not see a powerful man of privilege, a “spiritual leader” who deserves help, one who could maybe scratch Jesus’ back in the future if Jesus helps him now. Instead, he sees a human being, created in the image of God, a man whose heart is crying over the grip death has upon his precious daughter. Jesus sees his need, and seeks to restore hope and health to the family of Jairus, as the Father originally intended them to thrive. As God the Son, he is able to bring about his Father’s will.
The foundation of Jesus’ compassion rests upon the truth that God loves human beings because He created us in His image and likeness. Jesus does not judge our stature on the basis of wealth, skin color, education, gender, nationality, or even creed. In the Kingdom of God, there are no slogans that pit one group against another. No “Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Green Lives Matter;” no “99%ers vs. 1%ers;” no “privileged” vs. “oppressed;” no Westerners vs. Easterners, and so on.
In the Kingdom of God there are only the lost who have been found, the sick who are being healed, the sinners who have received grace. All human beings, regardless of the labels society may stick on them (rich/poor; privileged/marginalized; sophisticated/unrefined; self-reliant/dependent), are in reality creatures bearing the image and likeness of God, hard as it is to see sometimes. And all of us need the grace of God to heal, strengthen, cleanse and polish that image. As Jesus said, he came to offer deep-seated healing to the human race. The only ones who never enter the Kingdom of God are those who refuse to believe they need a physician.
Were we to recover this vision of human nature, we might find ourselves on the same side of the fight, rather than drawing up battle lines against one another. We might be moved to help bear one another’s burdens, as the Bible commands us, rather than stepping on each other in the race to self-centered leisure. We might applaud the signs of God’s blessings in the lives of our brothers/sisters instead of spreading the acid of envy and displeasure over the unfairness of life. In our times of abundance, we might emulate our Father’s compassion for those walking in the valleys of desolation.
But we are a civilization living on the fumes of Biblical truth. We aspire to integrity, generosity, compassion, fairness and kindness, but we have rejected the foundation from which such virtues grow. We are like the rose which loves the scent it produces, but decides it no longer needs the plant to which it is attached. We have severed the branch leading to the roots of life, and now wonder why the “bloom is off the rose,” why the fragrance is fading. We bemoan the loss of civility, the rising violence teamed with cheapness of life, the disintegration of our cultural fabric, our society’s trivialization of morality and superficial approach to the profundities of life, but when challenged to regraft ourselves into the massive, life-bearing trunk of truth and love rooted in the biblical revelation of God, we turn up our noses with a sniff of sophistication and bluster about separation of church and state. We are ignorant of what we need for individual and national healing, and we want to wallow in our ignorance. If only we could maintain the fragrance of the rose, without need for roots in anything but ourselves.
But we can’t. Only a return to understanding human nature (all human nature) as originating in the image and likeness of God will enable our society to step back from the precipice of treating people as commodities to be used or abused, or as enemies against whom to lodge our grievances and extract our pound of flesh. That would be a start.
But for Christians, those indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t end there. In my next post, I will share some thoughts on what it means to be one in Christ. Perhaps the Church, at least, will become a more shining light demonstrating to the larger world what it means to love one another in the midst of a diversity blessed by God.