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.

Amos 6:1-8

            There are few books in the Bible as kick-in-the-pants as Amos.  It is filled with God’s displeasure over Israel’s social and economic sins.  Few Americans nowadays realize that the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century’s rise of the Social Gospel did not result from liberal theology, but taking the Old Testament prophets, particularly Amos, quite serious.  Post-Civil War United States’ industrialization expanded at an incredible rate, swelling the cities.  This was the era of the great robber barons, and the wildly wealthy capitalists.  Although some of them were careful to be generous, most built their economic empires on the backs of poor immigrants and struggling families.  Poverty, inequality, and poor labor conditions were rife.  It was an era of tremendous social upheaval and change.
            It was a time not unlike conditions in ancient Israel.  Amos pulled no punches in communicating God’s message that the extreme wealth of some, while ignoring their fellow Israelites trapped in cycles of poverty, was leading them directly to their downfall.  “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory… who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”  Because of base callousness and not providing justice for the poor, Israel would be taken over and their wealth redistributed.
            There is not enough money in the world to immunize a person, group, or nation from the watchful eye of the God who has solidarity with needy and oppressed peoples.  If others do not take up the mantle of justice by providing them with help, God himself will act.  People everywhere need to be treated with basic respect, dignity, and the freedom to work hard and make a decent living.  Poverty is not always personal, existing because of laziness.  No, it is usually the result of some systemic sin in society that keeps people trapped.  One of the things that every one of us can do is build a relationship with someone who is treated more like a nuisance or a project, and interact with them on a regular basis as if they were a fellow human being.  Perhaps then we will find a greater connection with the prophets of old and the God who cares for all.


            Watchful God, you care about all your creatures and all people everywhere.  Lead me to those for whom you desire to provide justice and newfound dignity so that your name is made famous among both rich and poor for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.

James 4:8-17

            The classic comic book story of the origins of Spiderman has Peter Parker, after being bitten by a radioactive spider, acquiring the commensurate strength and skill of a spider on the human level.  Young Peter comes up with a way to make some easy cash by putting on a spider costume and entering a wrestling ring.  After the match, the promoter takes advantage of Peter and shafts him of much of his money.  As Peter leaves, a robber enters and steals the promoter’s money.  Peter sees the thief flee and does nothing to stop him, although he could have overpowered him easily.  Tragically, the thief proceeds to jack a car with Peter’s Uncle Ben in it.  Through a twist of fate, Uncle Ben is murdered by the man Peter ignored. 
            This story illustrates for us the importance of doing the right thing, even when it appears that our inaction will do no harm.  Today’s New Testament lesson reinforces a teaching that comes from the best held wisdom tradition of Scripture.  “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  Maybe we too often think about sin only in overt actions like stealing, murder, and adultery.  But on the other side of the coin, sin is also about all the things people do not do – ignoring the poor, presuming that someone else will help, or simply not paying attention to the inner promptings of God.
            In our hectic society we tend to be so crazy busy making money, trying to make ends meet, and planning for the future that we fail to see the divine appointments that God has for us in the present.  The alternative to all this striving for potential gain is to slow down and humble ourselves before the Lord.  A good place to start is to take some unhindered time right now to carefully and attentively read these verses from the epistle of James.  Then, ask God:  What do you want me to do?  Perhaps if we created the necessary space on a regular basis to genuinely ask that question, we would not find ourselves later regretting, like Peter Parker, our sins of omission.
            All-wise God, you are the One who sees all things and has called your people to faith in action.  Help me to see the people and the divine appointments you put in my way so that I might follow your will, not mine.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.