Luke 17:1-4 – A Person Is a Person, No Matter How Small

Horton Hears a Who

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So, watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (NIV)

“A person’s a person no matter how small” said Horton the elephant to all the people that were completely unconcerned for the residents of Whoville living on a clover. The people were uninterested because the Who’s were invisible to them. Dr. Seuss chose to make Horton an elephant, a large creature able to hear with big ears and be attentive to the small.

Largeness can only come through becoming small.

“Little ones,” people who no one sees or notices, matter to Jesus, and so they ought to matter to us, too. Invisible people need to become visible to us. They need to become visible to us because Jesus sees them – they are not invisible to him. Jesus often mingled with little people – children, women who had no rights, social misfits like lepers, the chronically ill, religious outsiders, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Our world is filled with similar people – angry adolescents, unwanted babies, forgotten old people, the mentally ill, moral failures, immigrants and refugees, and, if we have eyes to see and big ears to hear, lots of underprivileged people who reside on the dark underbelly of society. They are around us, even if they are invisible to us.

Jesus envisioned a community that sees, honors, and protects little people. Truth be told, we are all little people before God, and he notices us. And, so, we are to become humble enough to see the little people around us. The only way to become great in the kingdom of God is to descend, not ascend, into greatness. The chief enemy of any community is a desire to be prominent, to be the Big Cheese – it is called “pride” and it will separate us from God if we hold onto it.  Which is why we must do all we can to radically cut it out of our lives.

This is a big deal to Jesus. So, here’s the deal: We are not to welcome people because they are great, wise, rich, powerful, good-looking, and look like you and me – we are to welcome others because they are noticed by Jesus. Like Horton the elephant,

Christ the Lord hears the cry from the place of smallness and is determined to do something about it.

The proud person who seeks prominence is always looking for greener pastures and impressing others. The proud connect with people who will help advance them up the ladder of success. Through that process of advancement, the proud do not care who they step on along the way. The Christ follower, however, is to be different. Christians are to give small, insignificant people of society the time of day, treat them as important, and advocate for their needs.

It was the Apostle Peter, a guy who learned the hard way about paying attention to those different from himself, who quoted the Old Testament in saying, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:9) That is, basic love for another prevents them from committing the sins they would have if they were unloved. If we do not love, it would be better for us to be killed in a tragic millstone death. Jesus does not want people acting like leeches, just sucking the life out of others to get what they want.

So, what do we do about it? How shall we then live? A person’s a person no matter how small. We need humility. We need to lower our sights and our bodies to see little people. We cannot truly see a two-year-old toddler unless we lower ourselves to view them as equal and important.

The way to see another requires slowing down, observing, and stooping or sitting to look them in the eye and give them the dignity of attention they deserve.

The danger of reading a post like this is the thought that all this stuff is really for someone else. After all, I don’t want to hurt anyone or see anybody deprived, so maybe the experts and professionals ought to handle it all. Yet, the fact remains that we do no one any good when we neglect getting on the floor. When we assume blessing for ourselves without the intent of giving it to others, we have come under the judgment of Christ. Perhaps we fear forgiveness – either accepting an apology from another or offering one to someone we have wronged. Out of sight, out of mind, is the approach of the one who causes others to stumble and make them fall.

Christ’s admonition is to watch ourselves, to be vigilant of both overt and covert sins against the unseen and forgotten among us. The pyramid below concerning racism is just one example of many other forms of causing others to stumble and fall:

white supremacy pyramid

Even though I write this warning, dear friends, I am confident of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation, deliverance, and liberation for all persons. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped others and continue to help them. Continue to show this same diligence so that what you hope for may be fully realized; and, imitate those who through faith and patience are doing good work. May the Lord be with you.

For those deprived of their human needs and their human rights: Just God, may they may be given the dignity by others which you confer on all his people.

For all who are forgotten and unseen, especially the poor, the sick, and the aged: All-seeing God, may you move us to love them as the image of Christ.

For all who are lonely or afraid, for teenagers on the street, the elderly in nursing homes, prisoners with no one to visit them, and all whom the world has forgotten: Lord Christ, may you lead us to them.

For those who suffer mental illness or disorder: Attentive God, may we cherish the gifts you have given them, and in their lives hear the voice of your love.

For each human life: Creator God, may we value every person as you do. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

1 John 3:10-16

            What’s love got to do with it?  apparently, everything.  The Apostle John makes it clear that love is the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian life.  We only fool ourselves if we say we are lovers of humanity, yet we harbor hate in our hearts.  We deceive ourselves if we claim to be loving persons, yet commit mental murder.  If we either cannot or will not control our tongues through killing another through gossip, slander, backbiting, name-calling, and complaints, then the Apostle John would say that we are evil, period.  There is no fudge factor with John when it comes to love and hate.  Either we are righteous because we love, or we are unrighteous because we hate.
            Love is not jealous or unkind.  Love emulates the Lord Jesus by laying down selfishness and hate and taking up the mantle of righteousness through justice and peace.  Saying one thing and living another way is unrighteous.  When words and actions work together, both expressing love, then we are walking in the way of Jesus.  The Old Testament character Cain is Exhibit A of a person who hated his brother.  He was from the evil one because he murdered Abel.  Conversely, Jesus is the consummate example of engaging in a self-sacrificial act in order to love.
            Until we come to the realization that our tongues have the power of life and death, we will never learn what true righteousness is and can be.  But when we begin using our tongues as instruments of righteousness, then our actions will follow.  Perhaps the best place to begin is through prayer.  Praying for the welfare and best interests of those we dislike will set us on the road to becoming the Good Samaritan who actively helps instead of passing by on the other side.
            Loving God, I praise you for your Son who demonstrated genuine love.  Help me not to be like Cain who murdered his brother and hated him, but to be like Jesus so that all my words and actions reflect your righteousness – even toward those who do not like me.  Amen.

John 13:1-17, 31-35

            Today is Maundy Thursday.  On this day the church remembers the last evening Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his betrayal and arrest.  It is a day to particularly remember the key events of Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet; the beginning of what we observe as the Lord’s Supper; and, Jesus’ giving of a “new” command to love one another.
            Loving one another is not new in the sense that it did not exist before Jesus.  Indeed, the command to love is permeated throughout the Old Testament (see especially Leviticus 19:18).  Yet, when Christ gave the new command, it was distinctive in four ways:  Jesus is a new model of how to love, demonstrated through the servant-oriented meeting of needs regardless of who the person is; we now have a new motive for love in that Jesus Christ first loved me, so I can now love others as he has done (1 John 4:19-21); we now possess a new motivator, the Holy Spirit, who energizes us for the service of love; and, finally, we have been given a new mission in which the church exists not for itself, but to evangelize the entire world using the highest of spiritual tools, love.
            A true, genuine, and authentic follower of Jesus Christ will be deeply and profoundly characterized by love in all his/her words and actions.  We are called to put love where love is not.  The cross of Christ stands as the supreme sacrifice of love on our behalf.  We remember it this Maundy Thursday with humility and eternal gratitude.
            Holy God, your Son, the Lord Jesus, came as a servant not seeking to be served but to give his life as a ransom for many.  He came to wash away our sinful pride and feed us with the bread of life.  We praise you for inviting us to serve one another in love, to forgive one another as we have been forgiven, and to feast at his Table as members of one household of faith.  Amen.