The world is at war and we are all a part of it. Battles are sometimes fought with bullets, sometimes words, sometimes attitudes, actions, or inactions. The evidence is all over the news and current events, especially within the past few weeks. But the world has been at war for a long time:
There was a blind beggar on the side of the road. While Jesus was getting ready to restore the man’s sight, his far-from-perfect disciples asked “…who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
There was a woman in a synagogue. She had been crippled with a bent spine for 18 years. Jesus healed her when he saw her. It was the Sabbath, a day in the week where it was illegal to do any form of work (such healing others or being healed yourself). The religious leaders took note of this crime and made a public announcement, lest anyone be led astray: “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
Jesus was invited to the house of a religious leader named Simon to have dinner. While at the table, a woman barged in whose sinful reputation was despised by all who knew her. In a display of repentance she collapsed to the ground and kissed Jesus feet, wetting them with her tears and using her hair as a rag to clean them. The Pharisee saw this as a masquerade and said to Jesus, “If [you] were a prophet, [you] would know who is touching [you] and what kind of woman she is-that she is a sinner.”
Do you hear the common thread in all of these stories? In each one, there is a collision of the following:
1. A person in pain
2. Jesus’ desire and ability to heal that pain
3. Indignant onlookers who question and accuse: Who sinned?…They broke the law…She is a sinner…
These scenarios happened about 2,000 years ago. However, these three elements are still intersecting today.
Friends, there is tragedy in our midst. Within the last few weeks, lives have been taken. Bullets were fired, blood has spilled, and grief has ravaged the lives of those left in the wake. In this, we have substantial evidence of item one in the list above: our very brothers, sisters, and neighbors are in the darkest depths of pain.
When a wound is sustained, there is often a pause between the damage and the sensation of pain. In this space belongs the second item. The people of God, casting off all judgment, must enter in to fill the gap and be there for the wounded to fall back on when those crippling, relentless waves of pain inevitably rush in and knock them off their feet.
Sadly, the third item seeks to invade this holy place. Judgments and accusations have robbed the mourners of their sacred silence and thrust it upon voices that speak with mercy and grace. Those expressing their despair are decried for “playing the race card”. The reputations of fallen victims are criminalized with reports or rumors of past crimes; their death presented as a just consequence. Condolences toward affected families and friends are splattered with endless debates about gun control, racism, and the justice system.
This is not what was meant to be.
Let us consider again the first item on the list: A person in pain.
This is what we, the human race, are facing at this very moment. In our families, our schools, our jobs, our neighborhoods, our country, our world, there are people in pain. The black community watches as their friends and family are shot down in senseless violence. Law enforcement officers see some of their own killed in chaotic protest. Our children watch helplessly as the world they will inherit from us is racially divided before their very eyes.
Remember our first three scenarios? How did Jesus respond in each of them?
To the justice-minded disciples who sought to place the blame for blindness, Jesus directed their attention off of the sin and onto his intention to heal. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…” he said as he proceed to love and heal the man. The blame-game would not help and it was not the point.
To the Pharisees, indignant that a woman had been healed from an 18-year long infirmity ‘against the law’, Jesus directed their attention off of the debate and onto the suffering woman and the common-sense compassion due toward her: “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
Debating the hot-button issues would not help and they were not the point.
To Simon the religious leader, Jesus directed his attention off of any gossip and onto the woman: “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair…her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown.”
Attempting to justify withholding mercy from someone by digging up their past would not help and it was not the point.
Do you see it? In each instance, Jesus never wavered from his commitment to loving the people in need, regardless of whether or not they had a criminal background. He didn’t waste time settling the crowd’s complaints. Settling all of the debates and accusations would never alleviate the suffering of the individual nor lift the responsibility to do something about it off of the surrounding community.
What about you? In the wake of our present chaos, which characters in these stories do you most resemble? Whose words are you speaking? What lessons are you spreading to your community and children about responding to the needs of others? Are you speaking words of grace, mercy, understanding, and healing? This is what you were made to do in times like these. Your words and your actions are designed to do better, more productive things than to pollute the ears of the suffering with political banter and self-justified bitterness.
To those of us who are Christians, please remember that when we decided to follow Jesus…
1. We surrendered the right to condemn anyone: Romans 2:1-4
2. We signed-up to help those in need: Psalm 82:3-4
3. We surrendered the right to return ‘fire with fire’ and to hate our enemies. We agreed to love our enemies and forgive them, even those that commit the crimes: Matthew 5:43-48 & Matthew 6:14
4. We signed-up to believe that “God so loved the world” that he wants everyone to have a chance to know his love and forgiveness in Christ. This includes criminals, their victims, those who have different beliefs, politics, skin color, income, sexual preference, or citizenship status: John 3:16
5. We surrendered the right to step back and let God do the work of the above-mentioned belief while we look grudgingly on with folded hands. On the contrary, we agreed to roll up our sleeves and join him in the effort: Matthew 28:16-20
6. We signed-up to do the things Jesus did, not just talk about them: James 2:14-26
7. We know that we are only able to accomplish all of the above by getting to know God and letting him shape us, our words, and our actions: John 15:4-5
Our words matter. Our actions matter. They can destruct or they can construct. Whether through anonymous prayer, social media support, live in-person service, or speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, we are meant to make a beautiful difference in the lives of the suffering.
It’s time to do it.