17 February 2014

Meeting the desire of Jesus: offering mercy when we encounter the poor and needy - - Part One

Jigger-infested hands and feet of a young man called Jomba

Reading the first four books of the New Testament is so fascinating to me. The accounts of Jesus reveal that he was quite an amazing man. I’m continually intrigued by him and his behavior as he moved around the countryside.

I marvel at how often Jesus reached out to touch people, even the outcast and untouchable lepers.

He took time for people, no matter what was going on around him.

Jesus saw the villagers for who they truly are. He felt mercy and had compassion on them. But he didn’t stop with just sympathy. He took the next step and acted on those emotions by healing the needy.

Sometimes he intentionally went out of his way to encounter folks that were otherwise despised and rejected by society.

When Jesus came upon someone, he stopped and listened to them speak. He was not irritated with interruptions and was always aware of people’s deepest needs. He was willing to satisfy their requests.

In just a short section of the book of Matthew – chapters eight and nine – several such happenstance meetings stand out to me.

Learning from Jesus, as he encounters the poor and needy
A leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, ‘Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.’ Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, ‘I want to. Be clean.” Then and there, all signs of leprosy were gone. (Matthew 8: 1-3)

The compassion Jesus felt for this man obliterated the custom of the day – that touching an unclean person would bring defilement.

A Roman captain came up to Jesus in a panic and said, ‘Master, my servant is sick. He can’t walk and he’s in terrible pain.’ Jesus said, ‘I will come and heal him.’ (Matthew 8: 5-7)

Jesus was willing – ‘I will come’. He wasn’t too busy or too preoccupied to help this man’s servant.

Jesus found Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. He touched her hand and the fever was gone. (Matthew 8: 14, 15)

Yet another example of Jesus touching someone. The simple act of touching people can be such a powerful gesture.

Jesus and his disciples were met by two madmen, victims of demons, coming out of the cemetery. The men had terrorized the region for so long that no one considered it safe to walk down that stretch of road anymore. (Matthew 8:28)

Jesus intentionally walked on this ‘stretch of road’. He potentially put himself into harm’s way in order to encounter these two men – men who had been rejected by society.

A local official appeared, bowed politely, and said, ‘My daughter has just now died. If you come and touch her, she will live.’ Jesus got up and went with him…. He took the girl’s hand, and pulled her to her feet alive. (Matthew 9: 18, 19, 25)

Jesus ‘got up’ from what he was doing ‘and went with him’ to meet this need. It was his desire to offer mercy to someone who needed his touch.

A woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched Jesus’ robe. ‘If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.’ Jesus turned and saw her and then reassured her. ‘Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.’ The woman was well from then on. (Matthew 9: 20-22)

This woman interrupted Jesus, but he was sensitive to her touch and gave her the time she needed. He looked right at her and ‘saw her’; he was gentle and kind toward her.

Jesus touched the eyes of two blind men and said, ‘Become what you believe.’ It happened; they saw. (Matthew 9: 29-30)

Touching the blind men is yet another example of the transforming power of ‘touch’.

When Jesus looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

The heart of Jesus bled with compassion. Everyone he encountered moved his heart and he offered mercy to everyone.

Jesus also has a need, a need I can meet

Jesus, who is always concerned about the needs of others, also has a need of his own. His desire (or need) is to see his children respond and behave just like him – with mercy.

He strongly states this need to the ever-critical Pharisees when they accused him of a wrong.

“I desire mercy, not religion.” (Matthew 9:13)

He also added this instruction – that we should ‘go and learn what this means’. In other words, I should not just read it and forget it, taking it casually or glibly. He wants me to study this concept, to actually learn and figure out what he means by it.

A few chapters later, Jesus chastised the Pharisees because they again pointed fingers for a supposed offense – this time at the disciples. 

“If you had any idea what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not an inflexible ritual,’ you would not be nitpicking like this.” (Matthew 12:7)

The Pharisees had not yet learned what he meant. Am I ignorant like them as well?

Both of these times, Jesus quoted a verse from the Old Testament –

“For I desire steadfast love, and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6
 “I’m after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings.” (Message)

Another related and powerful verse is Micah 6:8, where God Almighty states his requirements –  

“The Lord has shown you, O mortal man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
 “God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. Don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously!” (Message)

The easy reaction when I encounter the poor and needy might be to click my tongue or shake my head. I might turn away or walk a different route so I can avoid such people. I may even express criticism. Perhaps I do these things, all the while convincing myself that I really haven’t done anything wrong. 

After all, I’m busy… I'm busy being a missionary. I have things to do. I have a schedule to keep. And who knows... it might rain. I can't stop now.

But Jesus has called me to choose the better way... the way of mercy. Let me be the exception to the rule and demonstrate the love of Jesus to those I meet in my day-to-day activities. Let me follow in his footsteps and abide by the maxim that he expressed.

Have I learned what Jesus said? Let me determine to satisfy this desire of Jesus, by offering mercy to those I meet along the way.

- - - - -

Be sure to read the following post about Jomba and his bad case of Jiggers.

No comments: