Being a Jesus-follower is a big commitment. It requires us to set aside our preferences for how we might want to live our lives, in favour of Jesus’ way. This is the third post of a three part series called “3 ‘Radical’ Things Jesus Taught”, in which I’ve looked at elements of Jesus’ teaching which should be a normal part of Christian life but have come to be seen as only for those ‘radical’ Christians. If you missed the other posts, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.
Get Your Hands Dirty
In every society there are people who are thought of as ‘untouchables’ or ‘undesirables’. We might not actually call them that, but if we’re really honest with ourselves that’s how we think of them. In Birmingham, the city I serve, there are somewhere in the region of 1,000 homeless people per 1,000 households.
As I walk around Selly Oak, where I live, and around the city centre of Birmingham, there are a lot of people out begging or sleeping rough. In my last post I wrote about an encounter I had with one man in the city centre. Sadly, the attitude of some Christians over the years has been one of disgust for people like that man. Thankfully, there are also a great many Christians who actively seek to love people who are considered unlovable.
Jesus gave us the perfect example of this. In Israel in Jesus’ time one of the ‘untouchable’ elements of society was the lepers. It was commonly believed that leprosy could be transmitted by touch, so anyone who contracted the disease was banished from mainstream society and forced to live in a leper colony.
For a Jew to touch a leper would cause them to be ceremonially unclean, meaning that they would not be allowed to go to the temple or participate in any synagogue activities until they had undergone certain rituals and an allotted period of time had passed. Jesus showed that this was not the way God intended things to be.
Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.
(Matthew 8:1-3, NLT)
Jesus knew that touching the leper couldn’t make him unclean in the eyes of God. However, he was willing to be thought of as unclean by other people in order to show this man that he was valued. It is likely that touching this man wasn’t a pleasant thing for Jesus, depending on how advanced the man’s disease was; he did it anyway. Wherever Jesus went, a crowd followed. Most of them would have been shocked and maybe even revolted by Jesus touching the leper; he did it anyway.
Wherever Jesus went, a crowd followed. Most of them would have been shocked and maybe even revolted by Jesus touching the leper; he did it anyway.
I recently read the story of an early group of Christians who demonstrated to the world what it looks like to get your hands dirty for Jesus. Around 250-270AD there was a great plague across the Roman Empire. The Emperor Decius tried to blame it on the Christians, which didn’t pan out because they were dying too. At a time when people threw sick family members out into the street to avoid catching the plague from them, the Christians went into the sick communities and cared for them. Many of them would have lost their lives in the process.
This kind of behaviour has not disappeared from the church. It is reported that many of the doctors and nurses who volunteered to help in the recent ebola outbreak were Christians. Some of the most effective homeless charities are run and staffed by Christians.
If we are to be followers of Jesus, we need to be prepared to get our hands dirty. There is no such thing as an ‘untouchable’ person to God, neither is there such thing as an ‘unlovable’ person. Everybody is loved and valued by God, and therefore deserves to be shown love and value by us as well.
There is no such thing as an ‘untouchable’ person to God, neither is there such thing as an ‘unlovable’ person.
As we seek to normalise the radical in our lives, it might help you to revisit the acronym which was so popular in the early ‘00s: WWJD. I know, it was so overused that it is now cheesy, but it hasn’t stopped being valid. In order to normalise the radical, we have to ask ourselves, What Would Jesus Do? You don’t have to go back to wearing one of the rainbow coloured wristbands, don’t worry! You might have to make some uncomfortable changes in your attitude though.
Take a moment and ask yourself: am I really seeking to be more like Jesus? Am I prepared to change the way I think and behave in order to achieve this?