The other day I read something written to me that, while I understand was meant to encourage me, actually ended up slightly offending me. I was a little taken back at the offense because I’m usually not the type that ends up easily offended. A few days later I heard the exact same thing and all of the sudden, I took up my defense and simultaneously had the sudden revelation of why I was offended in the first place. Thank you, Lord.
I was offended because I was being associated with something and defined by something I didn’t want to be known as. It was something I had no control over. There was nothing I could do to create change and while it wasn’t rude, or bad, or even ugly, I just know it’s nothing permanent.
I realize I’m being vague but the point is not what I was categorized into, the point is that we do this to people all the time without even realizing what we’re doing.
We constantly are associating people with something whether it be their job, their marital status, their gifts, their friends, their family, their finances, their church attendance, their weight, their height, their clothes, and all manner of things I’m not listing. This list is exhaustive.
My mind immediately went to Zacchaeus. (And let me just go ahead and categorize, if you grew up in church, go ahead and sing along with me. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he…” And seriously, what man wants to be labeled as a wee little man?!)
“He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10
Here we learn that Zacchaeus was a tax collector, he was rich, he was small in stature and he was obviously a sinner, so they grumbled because Jesus chose to go stay with a sinner. Gasp!
“And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” (Luke 19:7) I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a they. Shame on me.
I’ve seen Jesus do things for people that I didn’t think they deserved because of this or that, and no doubt, the Lord put me back in my place.
But thank you, Lord, for grace and mercy. As one of my favorite authors puts it, “Grace doesn’t seem fair until you need some.” Bob Goff.
Last night I got to pray for a girl who confessed to a group of people that she just wants to love people. It was obvious that her heart matched her confession. And that’s what I want, too.
Whether it be positive or negative, so often we base our love on the conditional, the seen and the status.
I’ve realized in my own life there are two dangers to categorizing.
Either they’re better than me or I’m better than them.
Admitting that makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. Gag!
When we associate people by being “better” than them, we feel like we have so much to offer that person and try our hardest to mold that person into someone we think they should be. Or, we ignore them because they simply don’t deserve our attention. We don’t give them the time of day because the more “important” people deserve it. It is sickening.
The danger in placing people in a category better than us is that instead of seeing and loving them as Jesus sees them, we start acting out of intimidation and performance because we want them to accept us. We believe they would never accept the real, messy us because certainly he or she never struggles, so we place them on a pedestal and put on a mask.
And in both cases, we end up withholding love.
In either situation, there is no real relationship. Only pride. And pride keeps people at arms length while humility invites people in.
But when we put on lenses to see people by Jesus’ eyes, we remember that we’re no less or more loved than the person standing in front of us. That we ALL fell short of the glory of God and Jesus came to see and to save the lost, which, if you needed a reminder like me, was all of us at one point or another.
It’s a reminder that our love for people is no comparison to God’s love for people. Nor do our ideas about someone else determine God’s love for them. Or what He’s doing in them. Or how He wants to use them.
I often have to remind myself that if I were in a large group and asked those of us to raise our hands that have ever struggled with any sin, whether it be bitterness, anger, lust, laziness, or addiction, just to name a few, the hands raised would represent two groups of people: those who were raised in church and those who were not, but don’t we categorize people into those two groups? Don’t we assume that churchgoers struggle with less? My point being, we’re all flesh and blood born sinners, churched or not.
Lest we forget, church does not cause transformation, only the power of Jesus Christ does. Nor does perfect church attendance equal godliness.
But when we greet and see people and honor people with the love of Jesus, despite where they work, what they do, or who they are or who they’re not, or what gifts they’ve been given, we can relate because we’re all just human and we’re all struggle in one way or another. And that alone is comforting.
And all of the sudden we realize we’re just one of them, instead of a they.
It’s all grace.
Dear Lord, help us. Give us eyes to see and hearts to love. In Jesus’ name.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35