I recently got a chance to preach in church, and I spent some time talking about Luke 4:18, where Jesus stands up in the temple and declares that he came to declare the gospel to the poor.
Combine that with the many places where Jesus says things like “blessed are the poor,” and you come away with a picture of Jesus standing firmly on the side of the disadvantaged, the marginalized, and the unattractive in his society. So, good for me, I once thought: I’ve progressed past the simple view of Jesus as a “mere” preacher of spiritual truth, and I now see him as a man who actively called out the corruption and sin around him, lifting up the disadvantaged and bringing down those who profited at the expense of others. But lately I have become fixated on another question: I see Jesus, the pastor — the one communicating God’s spiritual message of truth — and I see Jesus, the advocate — liberating the poor and giving sight to the blind. But is there really another side of Jesus that I am meant to see here?
I think there is. I think I see that side, every time I walk through town.
When I consider what the Bible actually says, I see a man that was born away from home, among animals, without the conveniences of home or the help of a doctor or midwife.
He became a refugee before his first birthday, and worked with his hands as a carpenter for at least 15 years before he began his ministry.
Near the end of his life he declared that foxes and birds were richer than he. He ate his last meal in a borrowed room, rode into town on a borrowed donkey, and was buried in a borrowed tomb.
He died naked — his clothes, stained with the blood from the ripped flesh of his whipped back and the dirt of the ground, were taken by ungodly soldiers who laughed at his claims of royalty and divinity.
It seems to me that if I saw anyone today who fit any of this description, i would see them as undesirable. I wouldn’t want to stand next to them; I would be unable to stand the smell and the stench of their body. I wouldn’t listen to them; I would avoid eye contact as I passed by on the street.
The people that most closely fit this description, that I can identify in this world today, are those that run up to my car, as I sit waiting for the light to turn green. Sometimes it’s a middle-aged man, sometimes a child; their clothes are worn and threadbare; they have fewer teeth than my 1-year-old child. They smell, they are loud, and their hair is unkempt. They usually carry a squirt bottle full of water, with which they intend to wash my windshield, if I will give them some money. Or, they knock on my window and simply hold out a hand, asking for change.
They are the people that walk into the cafe from the street, as I drink my coffee. They stand at my table and tilt their head and stretch out their hands, looking for any coins I could give them. “Get out of here! Quit coming here!” The waiter shouts from behind the counter. They curse at me, they curse the waiter, and they slink out the door, sure to come back again soon.
I’ve stated before on this blog that I believe that there is an important connection between the way that we accept the poor, refugees, and generally undesirable people, and the way that we accept Jesus in our hearts. The feeling that I had in the past was that somehow, if we can’t accept these kinds of people today and relate to them in a personal way, then in some way, our hearts are not open to Jesus and his message. We are not open to change, somewhere, in the way that Jesus wants us to be.
But now I believe I am coming to the conclusion that when Jesus said, “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me,” (Matthew 25:40) he was not only making a figurative, spiritual connection between our treatment of the sick, naked, and imprisoned, and our treatment of Jesus. I think the connection is made because it was obvious, visible, and painful — Jesus was naked, sick, and imprisoned.
He did not experience great riches, privilege, or freedom while on earth. He was born among animals, had no home, and died naked, despised by all. He was as undesirable as any person I have ever laid eyes on.
That’s it — that’s what he wants me to see.
He wants me to see that, if I really accept him, then I must be able to sit down next to the most undesirable people on earth, and not just tell them that they are desired by God, but actually desire to be with them myself.
God wants me to look at the poor, the homeless, the marginalised, the despised, and not only see someone in need — he wants me to see him. He wants me to accept him, and let him tear down the walls that keep me from relating to people who aren’t like me in the least. He wants me to see that, if the things that are important to him and important to me, then that person is actually just like me.
I am poor. I am the poorest of the poor.
He wishes that I never forget that: that though I am as a smelly, naked, sinner next to him, completely undesirable and without honor, he threw off his royal robes and took up the stench of my world, so that I would not have to bear the punishment that my dishonor deserved. Though my greatest riches are as dirty rags next to his holiness, he put on the dirty rags of my world — which in the end were taken from him — so that I could have his treasure.
Love him. Look at him. Honor him. Desire him. And look at everyone else, and do the same.