Even Jesus’ everyday movements carried a message.
“Jesus withdrew from that place,” Matthew, one of Jesus’ biographers, tells us.
Jesus had healed a man’s crippled hand. This deformity had thrust him into financial and relational poverty. He could not work but only beg. And others judged his human worth based on his dysfunctional hand.
“God is displeased with him,” people surely said. “Otherwise he would be whole like us!”
The religious leaders had asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” To them blind obedience to the Law mattered more than human suffering.
Jesus disagreed! His response was to heal the man on the Sabbath and prove which mattered most to him and to the Father.
Crippled lives matter!
What did Jesus do then in the face of tremendous injustice and pressure? Withdrew and warned others not to tell people about him.
Today we too face tremendous need and pressure. The trauma and unrest over centuries of systemic and personal racial injustice is lava hot. Justifiably! Black lives matter!
In light of the real need for justice and change in our times, how should you and I respond to today’s painful racial injustice?
Jesus withdrew not to avoid the need and issue but Matthew writes, “This was to fulfill what was spoken [of him] through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. . . . A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.’”
Jesus did not shrink from his calling, even though it would lead to his death. He withdrew from the expectations and demands of both those for and against him. He plugged his ears to the shrieking noise.
In reality if he had not withdrawn, Jesus would have been killed too soon by those who opposed him or recruited by those with other agendas. Instead he remained true to what the Father sent him to complete.
We face this too. The shrieking of those for or against justice for our black sisters and brothers may be impeding our ability to hear what God would have us do.
By the way, to do nothing is not an option.
Listen to the Spirit
Shortly after George Floyd was killed and protests erupted, my youngest daughter joined the peaceful protests in Denver. I’m proud of her for doing so. I hope her efforts produce justice and reform.
“I was going to invite you to go with me, Dad. But you are high risk for COVID, so I decided not to.”
Would I have gone? I don’t know. I’ve never joined any protest no matter how much I agreed with the cause. But she pricked my conscious. And while I was mowing the lawn, I asked God, “What should I do in response to this injustice so many blacks face?”
I heard in my spirit over the roar of the lawnmower, “Wait. Listen to and respond to my Spirit. Don’t react to the clamor of the news and social media.”
What Role Does God Have for You to Play?
During the rest of my mowing meditation, it occurred to me if I do anything it had to be congruent with who God made me. I needed to figure out whether I am a “small-change artist” or a “large-change artist.” Am I a Mother Teresa caring for and holding the hands of the dying one at a time? Or am I a Martin Luther King spearheading a movement?
I knew the answer. I’m a “small-change artist.” I’m a conversationalist, a shoulder-to-shoulder pastor, a writer—one word at a time.
Shortly after that, a number of white friends shared with me their stories of sorrow over their sinful and racially tinged hearts. They did not want to virtue signal. They wanted real change. We confessed our sins one to another.
Maybe one thing I can do is listen to the racially confusing and hurtful stories of my friends, similar to how a priest does?
“Let’s go and sin no more!”
Through withdrawing from the noise, I’ve begun to hear an answer to what I am called to do.
I don’t know what God would have you do. You tell me. God will speak if you withdraw and listen to the Spirit of God and not the spirit of the times.
The most powerful word God can speak to us if we withdraw and listen is, “Repent.”
As I’ve listened to God, the plight of blacks, and my white friends, I realized I have much to repent of. “The Book of Common Prayer” gives voice to my sorrow for how by my silence and actions I’ve wronged others racially:
[box] “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”[/box]
Isaiah can help here again. He is in the Temple and God confronts him. In that encounter Isaiah recognizes his sinfulness.
“Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips.”
God does not respond with, “It’s okay, Isaiah. You did the best you could.”
Instead God agrees and sends an angel to pluck a burning coal from the altar fire and scorch his lips, purifying him.
“Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Only after confessing and being cleansed and forgiven can Isaiah cry out, “Here I am. Send me.”
It seems to me that much of what us white folk have done is respond out of guilt and not to our guilt. Responding to guilt calls us to God. “God, forgive me/us. Send me/us.”
Responding out of guilt drives us to cover our sin with words and actions (even good ones) that God has not ordained.
If Jesus needed to withdraw and listen to the Father, we more so. That simple action of his had profound, eternal consequences. By God’s grace, you and I can withdraw, listen, repent, and declare, “God, here I am send me!”
As you listen to God, let me know what you are hearing.