“Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches” – John 5:3
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, used to come home at night bloodied and black and blue. His wife spent long hours at night praying, and you wonder whether a good portion of that was for his safety. Booth’s mission field was the pubs and dens at night, where he would wander in and begin preaching the Gospel. Needless to say, a few people took exception.
Throughout the Gospels, indeed the entire breadth of Scripture, God spent most of his time looking out for the poor and marginalised. Jesus in the Gospels, has a special affinity with those for whom the phrase “things can’t get worse” rang true. He reiterates that many times, with angular comments to the establishment; their attitude clearly didn’t impress him. Does ours?
This man at the pool had been sick for 38 years, lying in a hot climate and probably remaining there for days, even weeks at a time. Nobody wanted to look after him. The smell must have hit Jesus at a 100m, but those issues never seemed to bother him; hugging lepers, eating with prostitutes, halting the sermon to talk to tax collectors, Jesus was always stopping his agenda to tend to someone’s needs.
Where is this going? We’ve travelled overseas the past few weeks, largely to see family. It has been a delight, seeing family and friends we hadn’t seen for some time. We honoured parents long term marriage (and health) and feasted and celebrated. While occasionally things go wrong in our lives, we came away from that trip realising that life is as good as it gets, at least on this earth. We have had our share of problems, but compared to many, it doesn’t get much better. I don’t want to sound arrogant here, not at all – but for white middle class people living in Sydney, Australia, life is good. Add to that the security of knowing Christ, and I believe it is as good as it can be.
Two things, then: firstly, the church in the West is packed with believers who live a similar life. White, middle class – wealthy, educated, safe, secure and Christ to boot. It all looks pretty good. It wasn’t always like this though, and may not be for much longer, but that’s another story. The second issue is the crux, and that is this: what am I going to do with all that God has given me?
Reading Revelation at the moment, I am simply staggered at what is being held in trust for believers, and also by the magnitude of the authority and status of my Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet, for a few years he condescended himself to mix not just with humanity, but the lowest of the low. The people for whom there was no way out, found a way out in him.
He lowered himself to such a position as to ensure they felt they could approach him. Shunning robes, wealth and position, he made his dwelling in their neighbourhood. Further, he went out each day, seemingly looking for such people. Jesus knew, as the disciples knew, and as we have discovered what many thousands of missionaries already know, that the poor and the marginalised, the sick and dying are more responsive to God. Sadly it seems, and friends, this is something that God warns us of continually, those with a great deal of [wealth, status, prestige, power et al] will also have dual allegiances and a lacklustre faith. Undeniably, it is the story of the church in the West.
Throughout history, those who have made their mark for God in this world, are those who have gone out into it and preached to those who would listen. Those who would listen, are not usually those who already have it all. They usually have nothing, including much hope. These preachers have simply followed their Lord, realising that any sacrifice made here would more than be made up for later on. Sacrifice? We can say without hesitation, that the joy of seeing someone come to Christ as their Lord, outweighs anything this world has to offer.
In our experience of going out to share Jesus, there is undeniably a similarity between those who receive him now, to those who received him then. In a word, the marginalised. People to whom others give little due.
We need to go and search for such people, as it is unlikely that we mix with them now. We must stop expecting anybody to embrace our white middle class church culture. That phrase may be offensive to some, but I have my doubts that he wants to be defined by such culture – he certainly didn’t in his day. Let us delight in the fact that Jesus has already prepared the hearts of many before we even go, he is just waiting for us to go.
What joy, when after 38 years somebody finally came not only to put him the pool, but to give him back his life. It’s the same when we offer Christ to somebody though, we offer them life.
Pray this week, that the Lord will show you someone to whom you can offer life. Don’t be surprised when it’s not someone you expect though.