Jesus shows us how to care
It’s a little phrase that we toss around quite casually, generally when we don’t want to have to deal with something.
The truth of the matter of course is that more often than not, when we say “who cares”, we actually do care about the situation, it’s just that it’s too much for us to think about at that particular point in time.
I wonder if we would be better to say “why should I care” rather than just “who cares”.
I don’t think we ever will because we only say it when we don’t want to have to think about whatever the matter may be, but imagine if instead of just dismissing something, we actually gave thought to why something was or was not worth our attention at any specific point in time.
I suspect the truth is that when we either do, or as is often the case, do not help, we actually don’t put a lot of thought into it.
Maybe if we thought about it, perhaps we might think that we either did or didn’t do something because it felt like it was the right thing to do, or not the right thing to do as the case may be.
But sometimes these feelings are very nebulous.
Part of the problem with this is that the causes we give our greatest attention to are not necessarily the causes that are of greatest need, but the causes that have been marketed the most effectively.
Charities and advertisers know this, because they just need to tug at the heart strings well enough, and enough people will be moved to help assist.
The Big Question
The Big Question
So why do we care? Is it just because it feels right. And if so, how do we know which issues we should care about. Is there something deeper to all this? Do we need to re-evaluate how we go about caring for others.
Link to series
Link to series
This morning we are going to look at how Jesus changed the game with regards to how we care for others. We will see how he changed the game in the culture back 2000 years ago, and while the culture has to some degree carried on into our Western culture, it should still be a game changer today when we realise how superficial we can become.
So my aim this morning is to first track the change Jesus made and then bring this into thinking about how it applies to us today.
Jesus the Game Changer
Jesus the Game Changer
One thing that is immediately striking in the life of Jesus is how much he cares for others. On numerous occasions we are told that he was tired and exhausted, but then more sick and ill people were brought to him, and we’re told that he was moved by compassion and so he heals them.
We almost take these passages for granted, but in many ways it is a very curious thing that we witness. If you think about it, no where does it suggest that Jesus healed every single sick person in his day. As numerous as his miracles were, and we know that there were plenty more than just the ones that were recorded for us, there were plenty that weren’t healed.
And so, on those occasions when Jesus was tired and exhausted, surely it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for him to say, ‘you know what, they can stay sick, I need some downtime’.
Well, to figure this all out, we need to look at the mindset of Jesus, and we can get a little sense of this when we look at the scene where Jesus is in a synagogue at Nazareth, right near the start of his public ministry.
Now, I daresay most of you would probably make the connection that Nazareth was the hometown of Jesus. It wasn’t his birthplace, but after the initial few turbulent years of his life, that is where he grew up, with the highly probable assumption that he took up his earthly fathers job as a carpenter.
So when we come to the scene of him at a synagogue in Nazareth, he isn’t coming in as an unknown person who hasn’t been heard of, but as someone that they have all grown up with and probably spent much time together.
Now the start of this passage suggest that this actually isn’t the very start of his ministry. In fact verse 14 tells us that he had just returned from Galilee where he had begun to get a bit of a reputation.
But the author of this gospel, Luke, has decided to place it here because it gives some of the mindset of Jesus.
Well, in this passage, we get to see a glimpse of how their synagogue services would have run, and on this occasion they gave the floor to Jesus.
We’re told in verse 17 that a scroll was handed to him, which was the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Whether he is told which part of Isaiah to read is a bit unclear, although perhaps not entirely relevant for our discussion this morning.
But we’re told that Jesus then unrolls the scroll and finds a specific verse, which with our chapter and verse divisions, corresponds with .
If you go to , you will see that these verses are part of a bigger section which looks forward to the day in which God will bring about his restoration.
The passage in Isaiah uses this first person language which in the context becomes apparent that it refers to a Messiah figure that is to come - a conclusion that was generally well established when Jesus came about.
And so Jesus reads:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
But not only does he read it, he then has the audacity to say “today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.
Now this is pretty huge. It’s easy to miss it if you don’t fully understand the context, but Jesus is claiming at this early point in his ministry, and right in front of those he has grown up with, that he is indeed the long awaited messiah that will bring about change.
While we can easily miss the gravity of his statement there, it certainly wasn’t lost on his hearers who made the decision it would be best to throw him off a cliff.
Now as huge as that is, I won’t to drill into the fact that the part of the passage he used to suggest he is the messiah was the part that described who he was to come and help.
Interestingly, if you continue on in , it goes on to talk about things like ancient ruins being rebuilt and the bad being turned into good.
Now maybe Jesus did read that part and Luke decided not to record that for us, but I still think it’s significant, because in the two verses that he read, we see who is at the centre of his sights.
In fact there are four groups of people signaled, namely, the poor, the prisoner, the blind and the oppressed.
Now this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but indicative of who God wants to reach. If we were to summarise the list, you could say that they are the most vulnerable. They are the ones that are least able to help themselves.
If we think about it, going back to what we looked at two weeks ago when our focus was on the equality, God made every human in the image of God and so everyone has equal worth. However, because of sin in the world, inequality has come in were the rich and powerful can exploit the poor and helpless.
The problem is, this imbalance can’t fix itself and so we see it getting worse. Certainly this is current experience of society today.
But God does not like this imbalance. It is not part of the way things should be and so his main focus goes to those who need it most.
Now I’ll just put in a clarification here. You see, it is not as though Jesus doesn’t care for the rich people as well. We know that Jesus loves everyone regardless of who they are and that includes rich and powerful people. The rich and powerful however have a different challenge. Their challenge is to recognise that there is a greater need than money and assets and they are headed in the wrong direction if that don’t make this recognition.
But getting back to the vulnerable, it is very significant that Jesus reads this passage so early in his ministry because this really does start to show his intentions.
At the heart of Jesus’ ministry, is a desire to restore the imbalance caused by sin in the world.
Context of First Century
Context of First Century
Now, with this in mind, it is worth having a look at the cultural context in which Jesus found himself giving this message.
It’s worthwhile noting that it wasn’t as if the people of that day were completely uncaring. But we can consider the type of care they had by looking at two different words used to describe care in those days.
The first Greek word is “liberalitas”. This was the type of care or giving that you did with the expectation that the receiver would return the favour at some later point in time.
The other Greek word to consider is “Caritas” which is actually a word that the English word Charity later came from. Caritas was the type of care or giving where there was no expectation for anything in return.
In those days, liberalitas was very common, whereas caritas was not.
If you were rich or influential, not surprisingly, if you were in need of help you could find help quite easily. But for those who didn’t have much, well, liberalitas didn’t really apply to you because there was no hope that you could return the favour.
And so the vulnerable struggled. There was no such thing as a welfare system
If you somehow found yourself in prison, it certainly wasn’t like what modern prisons are like today. The prison supplied the prisoners with very little, and so the prisoner was reliant on family members to look after them, and in the event that they had alienated their family, which was usually likely, well, they wouldn’t have carried much hope for their future.
The result of this system is that the rich gain more power and influence, the vulnerable get less. It’s essentially how class systems begin.
The Jewish influence
The Jewish influence
Now, we need to realise that into this context, the Jewish people had already showed a different way. You see, we talk about Jesus being the game changer, and I’m certainly going to be arguing that myself, but Jesus wasn’t actually changing the system that God gave through the Jews. Unfortunately, the problem that seems to exist while ever sin reigns in this world, is that despite God’s people being shown a better way, more often than not God’s people (and I’m including us in this statement as well), just don’t live like it.
But if you look at the Old Testament, all of the laws set were designed to protect the most vulnerable. If we take slavery for example, while I know we struggle to get past the fact that slavery existed at all, but the reality is that the Jewish system built in protection for them - essentially making a slave master relationship more like an employee employer relationship. They were even told that they were to set them free after a set time.
Into the Jewish system also included looking after the foreigner and the poor. For example if you read about some of the laws about farming practices you see that they were to leave gleanings for the poor people.
Now as I mentioned before the Jews weren’t good at following these laws. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Jesus, their concern was much more about other laws and somehow seemed to miss the heart of what God wanted - which is why we can argue that Jesus was the Game Changer because he showed how it was possible to live the way that God intended all along.
Now, the good news is that the early Christians actually were good at living the way they should. They actually gained quite a reputation.
There is actually documented evidence that one of the Roman emperors looked with jealousy at how these Christians cared for their poor. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to emulate their values.
The difficulties for today
The difficulties for today
Now for us to think about how we can live truly how we should, we stumble across a few things Jesus said which makes it truly hard.
We see this particularly being the case in what we call the Sermon on the Mount.
we see Jesus telling others:
‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
If we look at the verses that come immediately before this it becomes even harder.
And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Now this idea of caring for people becomes really hard. Actually it was already hard before when we were to care for people where there is no hope for return. But to care for people who are manipulative, and even counted among your enemy, well that is almost too much for us.
This is where Jesus the game changer makes such a difference. We care in such a way that makes no earthly sense.
We can kind of see how donating money to the starving children of Africa might be good, but how can we justify being good to those who hate us?
The only reason I can think of, is the reason God has given us, and that is that every single human being is made in the image of God, and therefore have inherent worth.
This is not meant to be easy teaching.
It means as we reach out to those in our community, we don’t just reach out to the people in our comfort zone.
Now part of the difficulty here is that we know in theory that we should care for everyone regardless of their background. The reality, however, is that for many of us, we don’t really even know anyone that falls in that category.
Our thinking can easily become, well, if someone in need comes across my path I will help them, but perhaps we should be asking, are we even providing an opportunity to get to know these people who so desperately need our help. I’m talking the likes of the abused, those addicted to drugs, or alcohol, or gambling, those who have got caught up in the wrong scene.
Perhaps we need to think about possibilities to reach out to the likes of these. That won’t be easy, and it certainly will be getting out of our comfort zone, but if we are going to follow the heart of Jesus, then we need to start thinking in this way.
Of course, we can’t reach out to everyone. We do only have limited resources, but following Jesus means stepping out even when it scares us.
While Christians have not always lived up to ways of Jesus, thankfully there are many examples throughout the last 2000 years where Christians have shown the type of care expected when we see everyone as being made in the image of God.
We have seen hospitals started, when the rest of society couldn’t see the need. We’ve seen schools and universities started, knowing how much education can change the lives of the less privileged. We seen countless charities started in the name of Christ which reach out to the hardest hit people.
While to some extent, secular society has caught onto these ideals, it has been the Christians, knowing the heart of Jesus who showed the world how it should work.
I started by thinking about our casual use of the phrase “who cares”. The phrase that shows an indifference so that we can just dismiss whatever the concern is before us.
But we care, not because there is anything to be gained by us in doing so, but because God has opened our eyes to see the dignity that he has given every single person, no matter where there life has taken them.
It is not easy, but Jesus the game changer has shown us what it really means to care.