“The absolutely unpardonable thing was not (Jesus’) concern for the sick, the cripples, the lepers, the possessed… not even his partisanship for the poor, humble people. The real trouble was that He got involved with moral failures, with obviously irreligious and immoral people; people morally and politically suspect – so many dubious, obscure, abandoned, hopeless types, on the fringe of every society. That was the real scandal.” – Hans Kung
We are obsessed what the downfall of others. From broken celebrity marriages to the line between smoking and inhaling weed, from blackened, precarious background associations to discrimination leaking into hiring practices based on credit scores and identity theft information; we have infused a societal currency on false character meters and an erroneous importance to exclusion based in their pseudo-truths. The unfortunate existence of these situations have left us in the perpetual fear and isolation of life within a hard-hearted existence. In our contrived neighborhoods sprawling in a suburbia of morally glass houses, we live in the threat of closet skeleton colored stones being thrown and live equally armed to strike anyone we wish to tear down. In a lonely and unforgiving world we echo Henry David Thoreau’s, “lives of quiet desperation” when we allow our negative opinions to override our hope in the possibility of good. In this search for hope, there is someone who transcended the naysayers of his day and spoke to the core of humanity. He did not ostracize those in need or those who had failed; He knew them as they were and loved them in a way which changed their lives. Christ came, not for the healthy, but for the sick, dying, hurting, and suffering – longing for someone to save them.
Far too often we are out of we are out of touch with the tenderness of Christ, and as a result experience a lack of tenderness in our own lives and in response to others. We forget the mercy of the Father, which knew that no man could save himself, which is why He sent his Son to be the salvation for the world. In light of this, what exactly is it to love mercy, to act justly and to walk humbly with God. As we know, Micah 6:8 tells us that these are the exact things which the Lord requires of us. As we see in Christ’s life, He never ceased in to mercifully care for others; whether they were criminals, tax-collectors, prostitutes or even those consumed with their own business that wouldn’t stop to just enjoy the presence of Lord in flesh, like Martha. He was the epitome of justice, knowing the heart of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who looked at the interaction of the letter of the law over the need of the person. He did not waver when they hurled insults and accusations from inside the limitations of their ignorance and evil; He remained obedient in love to the Father. This is the grace of the gentle revolutionary of whom our Savior was, is and is to come. He gives us tenderness in light of the hard-hearted. He gives wisdom to those who call for his provision. And to the one who knows the evil of their own hands and feels the burden of its weight, He offers the unconditional love of forgiveness which covers their inadequacies and makes them holy before a righteous God.
Jesus turned societal expectation on its head. Rather than clamor for the audience of the wealthy or debase Himself for the accolade of the powerful, He sought out the ones who were in need. He found people who needed a comforting touch and embraced them. He discovered those who were failures and He gave them encouragement. He came for the lost and showed them the way, the truth and the life contained only in Him. Many times our experiences are the opposite of this, in our society at large and unfortunately in our Christian communities as well. The result of this is a blurring of our internal image of how much the Father loves us: His great love sees us just as we are – his much loved adopted sons and daughters. The incredible mercy of the Father comes through the example of Christ as He protects those caught in their moral failure from the shame, dishonor and degradation of their depravity as seen by the religiously potent controllers of organized religion. He guards them as they interact with those who have turned religion into politics, who have severed the spiritual connection from the discipline of seeking God, who have replaced the heart for the head and exchanged the free gift of grace for the costly sacrifice of those who are worthy. Christ came for real sinners, who are bound for real punishment. He gratuitously pardons them, knowing their need to receive his tenderness in their present depraved state. This forgiveness was given 2000 years ago for the reunion of God and man, and has been illuminated in the wisdom of the Spirit to repent. These are the homeless of the heart, the poor in spirit, those full of their knowledge of need for something greater than themselves to rescue them from their peril; these are who Jesus came to bless. They know the offering of such a gift and are open to accepting it. Their pretense is lost in understanding their own state of dependence. These are the ones who hear the call of the Lord, “Come to me, all of you who are tired, those of you who are wiped out from yourself. If you are confused, bewildered, lost, beat up, scarred, scared, threatened and depressed; come and find me. I will enlighten your mind with wisdom and fill your heart with the tenderness that I have received from my Father.” These are the words of an unconditional exoneration, exclusive to a Holy God; words which change our lives when we live in the wisdom of this level of tenderness which has been extended to us. How much more graciously do we know this wisdom when we look at our own hearts and find our own lacking, our own dark places where evil has colored our actions and intentions to please only ourselves.
In knowing our own frailties, we are then charged to emulate Christ in dispensing this love to others. As we follow the example of Christ, our experience of how we feel towards others is changed, and as a result, “The parameters of our compassion extend beyond those who opt for our lifestyle, favor our existence or make us feel good,” as Brennan Manning once wrote in describing the internal softening in response to Christ’s tenderness. It is not with a holy abstinence from the world surrounding us which evidences our connection to the Living God and shows Christ to the members human race we interact with; it is our tenderness and mercy, our willingness to meet others in their frailty and see them through the eyes of the Father who sent his Son to reconcile them to Himself. Christ came to show an uncommon level of decency and restore the dignity of man to the understanding of his love for them. He came to restore the heart of his creation, and their image of how valuable to the Father his children are. This is the power of experiencing Christ in our own lives and the radical change which comes in the blessing of seeing the world in light of being followers of a Holy God. As we interact with those around us we show his love, we respond with his words and we understand with his heart – even amidst the conflict of our own character in question. For we know we are secure in Him, and fortunately for us, God knows we are incapable of doing these things on our own, and in our weakness his power is illuminated in strength. This is the place where the leading of the Holy Spirit guides us and keeps us in the benevolence of tenderness. In our listening to his direction, we grow in our compassion and wisdom as we interact with a world suffering, scared and in need of salvation.
As we go forward, let us focus on the wisdom which comes from being enveloped by the tenderness of Christ. Even in the darkest places of our own hearts, we know that He views us, past, present and future, as his holy lambs, covered by the cleansing blood of the shepherd and in his gentle care. Let this knowledge guide our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as we interact with those around us in need. Whether the need is the homeless, our boss, the stinky kid at school, or even the family member who remains intolerable; we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Let us use the strength He gives us to please Him. Let us show love. Let us show tenderness. Let us show the same uncommon decency to those we interact with. Let us love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with our God.