JESUS THE ‘MAN FOR OTHERS’
A. S. Pillarson
We are living in a busy world. All are busy, one way or another. As we are too busy with ourselves, we hardly have time for others. The present trends seem to go something like this, "You do your job, I'll do mine; I'll not interfere in your affairs and you also don't poke your nose on mine; just be yourself and I'll be myself." This is so for the simple reason that we do not have concerns, interest and time for others! In a situation such as this, one is not surprised to find the man for others in Jesus Christ, our Lord Himself. We can speak of Jesus as the 'Man for others' because of His never-ending compassion for the poor, the outcast and the sinners.
1. Never-ending compassion for the poor (Lk. 1:52-53; 6:20-21; Deut. 15:11; Matt. 25: 40).
The Prophet Amos said, "...who oppress the poor, who crush the needy" (Amos 4:1). Amos knew that it was the rich Israelites, the elite of the then known world, who oppressed the poor and crushed the needy! So Amos said, "Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine" (Amos 5:11).
Poverty, oppression, injustice, corruption, cheating, sickness, suffering, etc., are the common problems of all people-both Christians and people of other faiths need to do something to solve these problems. However, here the writer mainly focusses first on Scripture. Firstly, poverty is the result of laziness. In Proverbs 20:13 we read, "Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread." Secondly, poverty is the consequence of injustice. In this case, poverty is not due to personal failings, but a result of social factors, especially injustice. It is written, "The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice" (Pro.13:23).
George M. Soares writes, "For the Bible understands poverty (economic or social) not as a natural condition, the fruit of one's karma, but as the result of oppression, whether human (as with the destitute and the outcast) or demonic (as with the sick, the crippled, and the possessed). The needy, without power, and abused by those with greater power are seen as poor in the Bible." In other words, those who have no capacity to provide for themselves the basic needs of life like food, clothing and shelter, are considered poor in the Bible. The extent of poverty increased to a new level during the 8th century B.C. during the time of prophets like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah. Injustice and discrimination increased and the new elite were able to exploit the poor (Isa.3:14-15). In this process of exploitation, most of the lands were concentrated in the hands of the few elite. That is why Prophet Isaiah writes, "Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land" (Isa.5:8). An important fundamental principle of the Bible is to right a wrong or compensate for a wrongdoing. God's nature being love, God hears the cries of the poor and the helpless. Thus the Lord says, "Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise. I will protect them from those who malign them" (Psa.12:5). That God is a God of justice and that God did justice to the people of Israel is seen in the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt (Psa.68:5-10;Exo.2:23-24). As the situation of the poor is grounded in injustice, their need is for justice (Isa.10:2), and it is God "who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry" (Psa.146:7).
Since the poor are powerless, they need to be empowered. We have ample Biblical references for the empowerment of the poor. We read, "For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it" (Exo.23:10-11). This is to be followed by open handed sharing with the poor, for we read, "If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land, that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be... I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land'" (Deut.15:7,8,11).
George M. Soares expressed the view that "Poverty and particularly economic poverty is not willed by God, but is the result of human sinfulness and injustice. For the Bible supposes that every Israelite (and ultimately every human being) has a right to the 'land'-that is to the prosperity, freedom, peace and community that he (or she) needs to lead a truly human life." Soares continued, "If anyone lacks these, he or she is being oppressed." "For when (Jesus) speaks of the poor, it is always the economically destitute, the socially outcast or the physically or mentally handicapped (indeed most often the first) that (Jesus) seems to have in mind." It is thus very essential that something is done to bring an end to their poverty. Therefore, recognising this, Jesus proclaimed the ending of poverty in what is popularly known as His Nazareth Manifesto (Lk.4:16-21) and said that this was the ultimate purpose of His mission. Jesus declared that the kingdom of God had come to the poor and the marginalised. Jesus strongly critiqued the then social context, because the poor were oppressed. They were in need of help. They needed to be set free from such oppressive structure of the marginalisation. Jesus' declaration of God's blessings upon the poor (Matt.5: 3-12) may be emphasising on their spiritual experience (spiritually poor), and Luke 6:20-21 may be focussing on their material deprivation (materially poor), yet one thing is certain that Jesus identified the humble poor as God's people. Can we also call those poor and destitute found in our streets God's children? Or what about those less fortunate of the society, who are powerless, voiceless and suffering in this world today? Are they also not God's children? As Jesus identified with the poor of His time as God's children, we need to do the same.
Jesus' teaching on the reversal of the 'first' and the 'last' (Matt.19:30-20:16) is fundamental to His eschatological teachings. R. E. Nixon writes, "In the teaching of Jesus, material possessions are not regarded as evil, but as dangerous. The poor are often shown to be happier than the rich, because it is easier for them to have an attitude of dependence upon God." Jesus came to preach the good news to the poor (Lk.4:18;7:22). We read, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Lk.6:20). It is the poor who are the first to be blessed and to be assured of the possession of the kingdom of God. According to Luke 14:12-14, the poor must be shown hospitality, and in Luke 18:22, Jesus told the rich ruler to sell everything he had and give to the poor before he came to Jesus and followed Him. Jesus recommended giving alms to the poor and the needy. How many of us have invited such people-the poor and needy, the voiceless and the helpless ones-to our homes? From this discussion, we have seen Jesus' infinite compassion for the poor. This is the reason why we can say that Jesus is the 'Man for others.' Jesus is the model for all of us. Can you and I be also 'man and woman for others' as Jesus had exemplified Himself throughout His earthly life?
2. Infinite compassion for the outcast (Jn.4, Jn. 8:1-11).
We come across Jesus conversing with a Gentile woman who was called merely a Samaritan. When Jesus said to her, "Will you give Me a drink?," the Samaritan woman replied, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink" (Jn.4:7, 9)? As the Hindu high caste keep away from the low caste, Jews usually avoid the Samaritans, "For Jews do not associate with Samaritans" (Jn.4:9). But Jesus affirmed positively, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water" (Jn.4:10).
When Assyria captured Israel, the northern kingdom with its capital at Samaria, the king of Assyria brought in many foreigners to settle in the land to help keep peace (2Kgs.17:24). Then inter-marriages between the Jews and those foreigners resulted in a mixed race. In the opinion of the Jews who lived in the southern kingdom, the mixed races were considered impure (read 'outcast'). Those Jews of the southern kingdom who considered themselves as the pure Jews disliked this mixed race, because they thought that their fellow Jews who had inter-married had betrayed their people and the nation. This woman, a 'Samaritan,' from whom Jesus asked water to drink, who belonged to that mixed race, was said to be living in sin. Thus respectable Jewish men were not expected to have conversation with such women. Despite her demerits, Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman.
Jesus Christ was witnessing to the message of the living water to such a neglected woman, which reveals the 'universal care' of His mission. In the same vein, following in His steps, irrespective of one's race, caste, colour, religion, social status or past sins, we need to witness the Gospel and share the love of God to the outcasts and the marginalised of the society. T. Swami Raju writes, "Jesus Christ had equal concern for all people; hence He made arrangements to preach the Gospel to both Jews and non-Jews. He brought good news to all people."
We have a well-known story told by Jesus-the woman accused of adultery (Jn.8:1-11). "The story of the woman accused of adultery," writes Priscilla Singh, "is a fine example, not only of how women are humiliated and punished, but also of how women are objectivised and abused by those in power to further their own ends." The reason why the woman who was accused of adultery was brought to Jesus, in fact, was to trap Jesus, because, as per the Mosaic law, such person should be stoned to death. But Jesus did not condemn her. "Jesus paid attention to the lonely and marginalised woman, talked to her. He gave her the much needed non-judgemental remark, for He did not condemn her." "We need the eyes and compassion of the liberating Jesus, a new way of looking at issues with insight and fairness that frees women, and allows them the space, trust and freedom to start afresh with hope and faith."
There is no place for impure people and outcasts in this world, for they are not regarded as full human beings. Most of us would not like to spend time with such people who are considered to be lower in status. On the contrary, our Lord Jesus Christ was compassionate towards the outcast. Jesus is the man for others because He showed compassion to the outcasts, the people whom society has rejected. Consider what your attitude will be to those who are considered poor, unholy, lower in status and thus rejected by the society in today's context, like the dalits, the poor, the weak, persons affected with HIV/AIDS, and so on?
3. Unlimited and immeasurable compassion to the sinners (Mk. 2; Rom. 3).
Suppose we see one of our church leaders, say a Pastor or a Christian leader sitting and eating with someone who is considered an outcast, a sinner, a prostitute, or a criminal. What will be our attitude towards the leader? We will criticise the Christian leader for his identification with the sinner. What is sin? Who are sinners? Scriptural references are abounding for sin and sinners. In Isaiah 13:11 we read, "I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins." Sin is lawlessness (1Jn.3:4) and disobedience to God (Gen.3). In Romans 3:23 we read that all have sinned; that means all are sinners. We read, "The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They (humankind) have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one" (Psa.14:2-3). But now we have been made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom.3:21-31).
Jesus was sitting with tax collectors and sinners at Levi's house (Mk.2:15). When the scribes saw that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners, they questioned Jesus' disciples, "Why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mk.2:16-17). We read that the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost (Lk.19:10). Jesus very often mixed with not only those in a low position, but also the people who lived bad lives in the world such as the tax collectors.
Why were tax collectors considered sinners and disliked by the Jews? The tax collectors and sinners, according to John Hargreaves, were a group of people, all of whom were regarded as breakers of the Pharisees' rules and very many of whom were living bad lives in God's sight. The Pharisees used the word 'sinners' for those who were non-Jews and those who were not observing the rules of Jewish religion. Jesus freely mixed with such people and even ate with them. What Jesus did was not acceptable to the Jews at all. "The Pharisees wanted Jesus to wait until they were good before Jesus ate with them, just as all Jews expected that God would wait until a man or woman was good before God blessed him or her (Psa.15:1-2). But Jesus did not wait. If He had waited until men and women were good, Jesus would still be waiting now, because everyone has sinned" (Rom.5:8). Jesus was the man for others because He showed His unlimited and immeasurable compassion to the sinners. If there is someone doing something bad, instead of finding ways and means to help the person by giving good Christian counselling, the church expels them right away from the membership, or removes them from the institution. This is contrary to what Jesus did. Jesus always gives a second chance, or even several opportunities for those people to correct themselves, because Jesus was the man for others. Jesus came to seek out and to save the lost. Jesus came to this world to give life to all (Jn.10:10).
May I invite you to think seriously about the attitude of our Lord Jesus Christ towards the less fortunate of the society? Jesus always showed compassion to the poor, the outcasts and the sinners. What about us?