I begin today’s devotional by asking each of us to reflect for a moment.
Are you a safe person?
I don’t mean are you likely to become violent… I mean… do you believe you are safe for other people to approach….and relate to? Do you relate to other people as a potential threat you need to defend against…. or as God’s gift to be opened?
What kind of space do you create for others?
Our Christian focus is on “being like Jesus,” on “imitating Jesus,” building better relationships… so this may be one of those most important questions.
This devotional is about building better relationships in every point of relating.
We are engaging the qualities that can help us develop better relationships with those “neighbors” we are just beginning to engage…as well as building better relationships with the family and friends who we have known for many years.
No matter what the state of our relational life is… we can all move further from self-isolation to His intimacy. We can all develop more meaningful connection.
It is incredibly, almost embarrassingly easy to say but it’s not ever so easy to do.
I hear the prophetic words of Isaiah’s Commission ringing through my soul.
Isaiah 6:8-10 Amplified.
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on listening, but do not understand;
Keep on looking, but do not comprehend.’
“Make the heart of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”
We do not love ourselves as naturally as we would all profess, we do
We don’t love our neighbors as naturally as we would all profess, we do
We do not love God as naturally as we would all like to profess, we do.
We do not imitate or model our Savior Jesus Christ as we all profess, we do.
So, now we are looking at the one who embodied the very nature of God…that is Christ Jesus, our Savior…and how he loved in this world…how the love of God was reflected within the patterns of his life…which we can embrace as our own.
Ephesians 5:1-2 Amplified Bible
Be Imitators of God
5 Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; 2 and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.
Ephesians 5:1-2The Message
Wake Up from Your Sleep
5 1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
Watch what God does, and then you do it …… like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.
Observe how Christ loved us. … then model Love like that. (1 John 4:7-12)
And today… the pattern we are about to be engaging is how to see others up to and including ourselves. Learning to see others EXACTLY as Jesus saw them.
Because (shamefully?) the way we see people determines how we treat people.
Most of us may fall into a dangerous snare: presume that we see people with respect and treat them well…like Christ treated us but what about if they aren’t being kind to us? What if they are being just plain annoying… or offensive?
Or, what if I am the one who is being just plain annoying?
Or, what if I am the one who is consciously or unconsciously giving offense?
Or worse… if I don’t see what they can do or me…maybe I don’t see them at all.
So how does God see people?
What did Jesus see?
As the Biblical account of Matthew describes…
Matthew 9:36? When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew is telling us how Jesus saw the crowds.
How Jesus observed his neighbors – The crowds.
Not the select. Not the special. But the crowds which represent the common nature of people like you and I…and everyone else in this world.
We can assume such lives included the same annoying offensive attitudes and behaviors that are, even in our days and seasons, common among human life.
There is no sense that they held much that Jesus could get from them… as he seemed to have already understood how the hearts of humanity would turn on him when any sense of transactional desires for power were deemed done with.
He sees these common lives with compassion.
Compassion is not simply having pity for someone at a distance.
It’s a word that speaks of actual connection. The word used here… translated as compassion… speaks of exactly how another life is allowed to be taken in… and to affect us deep inside our hearts. It’s about bringing them in toward yourself.
It’s helpful to understand that it is not simply the opposite of seeing someone critically. It is not a matter of being blind to the problems in another person.
Seeing with compassion is about seeing more that simply seeing with critical eyes and souls. Seeing critically and seeing compassionately are not simply opposites but rather a matter of one being more fundamental than the other.
A parent may be deeply critical of their child’s behavior…but they are more defined as a parent than a judge… more given to restore than to condemn.
And this is what we see in Jesus.
“I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” – John 12:47
Jesus doesn’t summarily dismiss the behavior of others… but he sees more than simply our behavior. He saw they were lost… they had wandered …gone astray… like sheep without a shepherd… leaving themselves harassed and helpless.
He didn’t come to simply pronounce the judgment we face…but to provide the grace, charity, forgiveness, to come home…. and be who they were meant to be.
We have a great example of how Jesus saw someone…and related differently… which we can read an account of in the Gospel narrative of Luke… 19:1-10 Msg.
19 1-4 Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So, he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.
5-7 When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
8 Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”
9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”
This encounter has long been a joy for me to imagine….and it captures how Jesus loved people in an “in your face” provocative and powerful way.
Jesus is once again nearing a city.
It’s the city of Jericho… which was no small town.
It was a town with plenty of merchant activity…and a choice spot for tax collectors.
Rome knew the best way to collect taxes was to employ some local Jews to do the work… which meant finding someone, or several someone’s willing to turn their hearts, souls and their backs on their own people and serve the oppressor.
And even worse…such tax collectors were known to use the opportunity to demand even more than Rome required…and to take for themselves…which made then hated by both their fellow Jews…and the Romans.
You can imagine the depth of hate the people felt towards one of their own both betraying his own people in service to the oppressor…and likewise, audaciously, cheating his own people out of sheer unadulterated greed.
A tax collector was the very definition of a moral outcast… the lost cause.
In fact, Jews of this time often use the phrase sinners and tax collectors… suggesting that the hated tax collectors were seen as a class of their own.
Jesus sees him… calls to him… invites himself over… and it becomes a complete reset for Zacchaeus.
In the end… a man came down from the tree in which he was hiding in shame.
How can we learn to “see’ people like Jesus?
How can we learn to “see’ people like Jesus… with compassion?
…. that allows us to model Jesus’ example and be “safe” and approachable?
The first thing we can learn from Jesus …is to….
1. Slow down… and maintain a margin for grace.
There’s a lot of people in this scene… and Jesus is just reaching his destination… so we can imagine for ourselves observing a biblical scene in which it’s time to first prioritize getting through the crowds and get a meal and some rest.
It’s the type of moment we only just want to get to what we immediately need.
But Jesus lived in what some call the pace of grace.
He never moved faster than the speed of love… and love requires slowing down.
We see how Jesus slowed down.
Long enough to really see people.
How many of us know all too well that our professed busyness competes with how well we stop and care for others. We need to maintain a margin for grace.
As Carey Nieuwhof recently expressed,
“You are …the most kind when you have the most margin.”
Many of us have probably felt the challenge of being so rushed we are not really present amidst various exchanges we may go through.
We have a sense of the challenge to maintain a margin for grace.
Despite those pushing him through, Jesus was able to stop and look up …and see him…and though on his way… he used the rhythm of a meal… a break for lunch.
Amidst sharing such a meal with “Zacchaeus”… there is the ability to listen to your heart and soul…not just your head. The Holy Spirit is able to help us see.
Our head might raise walls of busyness and fear and judgment…but if we slow down… the Holy Spirit will intercede and allow compassion…. space for another.
What we first see… is the outward… and we make a thousand calculations to help manage life … it’s easier for our minds to simply create categories …… and then associate them unconsciously… with clothing… context… behavior… social status… moral nature…all in about a grand total of less than one second.
That is what labels serve… like “tax collector.”
Everyone knew how to see a tax collector.
And the shameful truth is that most of us have similar ways of seeing those who we “categorize” as homeless…old… young…healthy or disabled or handicapped.
If we hope to connect with our neighbors as Jesus connected with his neighbors … then it means we will have to 1000% slow down to actually see the individual.
Jesus didn’t lose sense about his destination… but he also didn’t stop seeing people through the eyes of God alone, as being His children, along the way.
Slowing down to become available… means becoming both physically and emotionally available.
We all know that it’s possible to be physically and spiritually close to, with, someone and yet not really giving much thought to paying attention to them.
Try to talk to someone who’s engaged with their smartphone or TV… you really don’t have their full attention.
How did Jesus know Zacchaeus’ name anyway? We can only imagine.
But at the center… a man is seen.
But at the center … a Child of God is seen!
We live amidst how many 100’s of millions of people… of our neighbors, and there are so many millions more who will just wish someone could see them.
And I would venture to say
… there is a part of every one of us…that may not feel seen.
Here’s a question that can be hard for us to ask of ourselves … but so healthy.
Would the people who know you best say you’re largely available or distracted?
See others beneath the outward behavior… to the soul that bears God’s image.
Without anything else within our sights…we (shamefully?) tend to see people’s outward appearance and behavior…in relationship to how that does or doesn’t serve our own shamefully, embarrassingly fragile, sense of our self-esteem.
How easily we tend to see people outwardly.
We can tend to see people as merely annoying …as those with needs which should be avoided.
We tend to see people as potential sources of “micro-aggression” “triggering.”
We tend to see people as an “offensive” threat to our own fragile sense of value.
We can tend to see people as reflecting some radical element which we can rush in headlong and headstrong to judge … as a means to feel a sense of superiority.
Fortunately for us, our Living Savior Jesus saw infinitely more than “just a tax collector.” He saw through the eyes of His Father, a sheep without a shepherd.
He did not go to the home of a tax collector…. he was not just relating to a tax collector…but to one who was created by God, to be and live as a God’s child.
This is where Jesus confronts our religious nature.
By that I mean our (shamefully?) human ways of trying to be “religious.”
“Religion” sees people as the enemy…and rushes to condemn them as sinners. Jesus sees sin as the enemy…and wants to reclaim all God’s Children by grace.
How easily Jesus could have joined the common way of seeing Zacchaeus… as a betrayer… a traitor… labels that speak of what he does… as if it is who he is.
But Jesus intentionally looked and saw beneath the behavior that had come to define people’s lives…he saw then with great compassion and understanding.
What great compassion and even greater understanding? He never excused what they did by speaking of them as simply victims of someone’s else will…but he also understood they had given themselves to a system of destruction…and that they could choose to turn back…and through him… be reclaimed, restored.
That is what Zacchaeus appears to have found in Jesus.
Jesus saw what was beneath the grime of their sin and our own.
Jesus said … “Stop judging by mere appearances…” – John 7:21, 24
How can we learn to see people, like Jesus did, with only the grace of God… to see beyond and through what may elicit judgment… and develop compassion?
Many might presume that Jesus was failing the way of righteousness.
Many only chose to see that Zacchaeus was “only” a tax collector… living in a life of sin…and he needed to feel the shame of the community to help provide a clear message. In their minds, “What didn’t Jesus understand about that?”
As best as I can understand in this moment… Jesus wouldn’t have dismissed the obvious association of him being a sinner….and even of Zacchaeus being faced with the consequences of that decision …. but Jesus bore the power to see more.
Zacchaeus as “only just a sinner” was not his first nature… his original existence… not what he most fundamentally was created to be… nor what should be accepted as the most basic truth, fundamental claim over his life.
What Jesus saw were lives created to live in the love and will of the Father.
Psalm 139:13-16The Message
13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
Sin was no one’s original nature… it was by nature a sheep gone astray… and making the decision to repent was to turn around back to the arms of God.
Savior Jesus doesn’t see people simply as sinners in the sense that sin is simply a behavior… seeking behavior modification. Sin is about identity… about what we ourselves are choosing to self-identify with and then choose to react upon.
We can (shamefully) (embarrassingly) tend to simply judge people only as good or only as bad… then rush in, condemn them to a state of value or lack of value.
Compassion sees the tragedy of sheep that have gone stray… needing to be found and led back. Jesus didn’t focus on the symptoms but rather of the cure.
The Love and Charity and forgiveness of Jesus represents the Father’s love for each and every single one of His children that have not come home. (John 10:16)
God is set on reclaiming lives, not rushing in headlong and headstrong to, like man is shamefully, embarrassingly apt to do – to condemn them. (John 8:1-11)
What the crowds could not see…and Praise God, what Jesus did…is that God was not even close to finished with Zacchaeus. And He is not finished with any of us.
If we are to build better relationships…we need to learn to see people like God does…and to treat them with compassion. This means we need to see what lies beneath and beyond how we may appear…and sees the sacred value of every life.
PART 2 – TOMORROW ….
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Father God, you created our life, you gave the sacrifice, Jesus set the example, and you’ve given me your Word to light my path. Help me to imitate you with everything I do. Help my heart to be as forgiving, my words to be as loving, and my thoughts to be just as pure. Go with me as I follow your commands with the faith of a child – Your child. In your Son’s name I pray, Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.