Friday, June 1, 2007

The Radical Message of Jesus!

I went with Rev. Pickering, pastor of Care and Nurture at North UMC, to visit RJ (name and identity withheld) in the hospital last week. RJ is a regular at North’s soup kitchen – Bread-N-Bowl – held three times a week to feed the poor. RJ, a homeless man, was accidentally shot in a drive-by-shooting incident that occurred across the street from the church about two weeks ago. During our visit, RJ was in immense pain. He gave vent to his frustration with a system that shows little or no sensitivity toward people who are not well off. He complained about not receiving his medicine. No one seemed to care or show any sensitivity toward a person in great agony, suffering from several gunshot wounds. RJ expressed his desire to leave the hospital, even though he was a homeless person. “I will get out of here if I could walk or get one of them wheel chairs,” he said.

In addition to the many words that he said to us, RJ passed a comment that has caused much reflection over the past week. “Somebody getting paid anyway,” he remarked! That RJ was in a hospital where workers were paid to take of people like him – people coming off the streets with no insurance – and yet having no one to empathize with his cry of anguish was, for him, an almost incredible tale of hope and tragedy.

It would be difficult for all of us to imagine RJ receiving such treatment if he was the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation. It is to a society like ours – one in which the cry of the needy is neglected – that we must, with conviction, proclaim the radical message of Jesus:

I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’”
(Matthew 25:42-45) – RSV

Jesus regards that which is done to “one of the least of these,” as done to himself. He does not ask what we have felt or thought, but what we have done or left undone in our dealings with “one of the least of these,” not the kings nor people usually in position of honor, but the afflicted ones – people like RJ. Jesus identifies himself with the suffering human race, and shows that in neglecting to perform acts of charity to the afflicted, we disregard, despise, and dishonor him. In our neglect of “the least of these,” we are neglecting Christ; when we show no love, no sympathy, no pity, we would not have ministered to the one who claimed: “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:56). Love looks to Christ, and rests in Christ as its ultimate center.

Is it preposterous to think that Christ, even now, dwells incognito among us, wandering among us, disguising himself as the poor, sick, distressed, disabled, suffering, and oppressed. He is not concerned about how we feel, or what we think about the “least” among us, but what we do to and for them. Everyone who ponders this finds that it is radical! It is to this radical service that the Christian community is called.

The more I ponder the life and radical message of Jesus, the more I wonder if there is, indeed, a rigid dichotomy between having a conversion experience and disrupting the status quo. The two are beginning to seem interconnected, like the two beams of the cross!

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