I’ll be honest. I’ve tried writing a blog every week for the past few weeks (except for that camp week, and VBS.) Each time, however, I found myself at a loss for words. And for as wordy as I get on this thing, some of you are probably wondering how that even works. Most of my reluctance to publish has been a nagging question at the back of my mind: “Haven’t you said this already?” I freeze, and wonder what else there is to be said.
Then I remember an idea C.S. Lewis (I think) tossed into my worldview a while back: that the moral thinkers and prophets we remember weren’t writing anything new, just reminding their time period of what we all know is right. I can certainly see his point with the biblical prophets – they seemed to be stuck on repeat. And, yet, I still see people ignoring them, plugging their ears and pretending that certain passages aren’t in the Bible.
As Rabbi Sacks points out, the greatest single idea that the Bible has given to modern society is that every human being is created in God’s image. And, might I add, no status or action can take away that truth. For example, a convicted felon in prison is no less made in the image of God than a minister boldly proclaiming the word on a Sunday morning. Please mull that over for a moment.
Why use the example of a prisoner? Well, because America has one, if not the, largest prison population in the world. And I am so happy to say that my church family is highly involved in prison ministry. Our kids even make cards and notes for the prisoners each semester. Dominique Gilliard pointed out in a recent interview on Seminary Dropout that, “without prisoners, we wouldn’t have the Gospel.” Peter, James, Paul, John the Baptist and others were all prisoners at some point. (Also note that nearly every one of them ended up on the “death row” list as well.)
I bring this up because for years the language surrounding prisoners, the poor, and foreigners has been, frankly, dehumanizing and ungodly and unworthy of a child of God. Words like “animals,” and “predators” have been tossed around by both ends of the political spectrum, so neither group is let off the hook. For generations, children have heard these terms applied to different people, and I don’t have to wonder what the effect has been.
Jesus, in particular, was very clear about humanizing the enemy, going so far as to pray for them as he was being killed. He also spent a large amount of his time and energy with the poor, the sick, the hurting, and the “sinners.”
Can you imagine Jesus teaching an ESL class? Can you imagine Jesus volunteering at the local community kitchen? Can you imagine Jesus leading a prison ministry? Sure, right? We can all agree these things are what good people do. But, remember, Jesus was lumped in with the sinners. He was called a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus also lived a life of an itinerant, traveling everywhere, and calling nowhere “home.”
So can you imagine Jesus sitting at the bar in your local drinking establishment? Can you imagine Jesus sleeping in the homeless camp out in the woods behind the subdivision? Can you imagine Jesus at Burning Man? Can you imagine Jesus mingling with people at a gay pride parade? Can you imagine what people would say about this Jesus? You don’t have to! Read Mark, or Matthew, or Luke, or John! We know exactly how people responded: the sick, poor, and sinners rejoiced at Jesus’ message of the Kingdom; and the church people, community leaders, and government felt their power and status quo threatened and reacted with violence.
Remember, when Jesus arrived at the party, lives changed. Hearts melted and were remade. People found themselves transformed in the radical love, firm challenge, and life-altering compassion Jesus exuded. Jesus saw each and every person as being made in the image of God, and it clearly affected the way he interacted with others.
Have we been transformed? Do we really see the world as it should be: flipped upside down in the new Kingdom worldview of the first being last and the last being first? Do we truly see the image of God in every human being? Can we evaluate the way we act, speak, and listen based on the Kingdom of God rather than this kingdom of air?
Let’s work on this next generation now. Let’s change the way we speak about people, particularly the vulnerable and those who need a hand. Let’s model how to speak about others by offering respect and compassion. Let’s teach our children that respect doesn’t mean agreement. Compassion doesn’t mean signing on to someone else’s beliefs. These things are what we should offer to everyone.