“Why bother with addicts who don’t want to change? People have choices to make and if they don’t want to take responsibility let’s rather support those who do.” Those are sentiments and responses many of us consider as we reflect on the life-debilitating needs and challenges people face around our community. What is helpful? What is enabling? When are we getting in the way and when are we merely washing our hands of a responsibility we prefer not to face?
Honestly, I’m pondering these questions most days. About the only response I’m sure of is that I/we can’t do nothing and claim to be disciples of Jesus. Perhaps to help with insight into this moral dilemma consideration of Jesus actions, insights, and teachings will be illuminating. When I consider walking away from a difficult person and abandoning them because of their stubborn attitude, their lack of appreciation, and/or their destructive choices I have one simple question, “What would I do and feel if this was my son or daughter?” Jesus always asks me that question. Sometimes the answer is to leave them be for a while – but I can’t walk away – ever – completely, not while they’re still breathing. Particularly when the person behind the addiction or struggle has a name and I’ve caught a glimpse of some of the delightful and often humorous personality traits beneath the grime and distortion.
I consider Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan crouching at the side of the road to tend to the wounds of a broken man – with no agenda other than he’d eyes to see and the resources to give in a situation others chose to dismiss and ignore. On another occasion Jesus was having dinner with a very respectable Pharisee, Simon, and a disreputable woman wept over Jesus’ feet and anointed him with oil. Simon was indignant at the messiness and emotion of such an encounter around his table. Jesus was appreciative and totally understood where the woman was coming from. With disarming simplicity and tenderness Jesus said to Simon, “You gave me nothing when I entered your house, in contrast to this woman’s outrageous demonstration of affection. The one who has been forgiven much loves much.”
Simon, it seems, had little awareness of his impoverished spiritual state as he clung for his identity and sense of worth to the title and status of Pharisee and religious leader. The woman on the other hand had no buffer or ability to hide; she knew only too well the depth to which she’d fallen and how out of control her life had spiraled. In fact any ‘spiritual people’ she encountered judged her and avoided her – that was until she met Jesus. It was his compassion and outstretched heart and hand that transformed her life to a degree that no words could express. Gratitude welled up inside toward one who for the first time in her life offered forgiveness, acceptance, and hope for a future. Her words spluttered awkwardly out amidst sobs and tears. As she was anointing Jesus’ feet she suddenly realized she was making a mess and had nothing to clean up with – so she used her hair as a rag, such was her unrehearsed confusion and fumbling thanksgiving.
I used to be a lot more like Simon and those who walked by on the other side of the road. Until I was the one lying bleeding and found myself isolated in shame with rocks thrown by those maintaining their pharisaical distance. Jesus found me somewhere out there and loved me back to life despite ‘me’. As I read the stories Jesus told and the encounters he had I invariably find myself on both sides of the fence… “I once was lost, but now I’m found….. amazing grace how sweet the sound.”
Where does that leave me answering the question about why we bother with frustrating, rebellious, and unappreciative people who make wrong choices?
There’s some selfishness in my answer. I notice that when I dismiss people with addictions or ongoing struggles, keep a distance, and have too many self-righteous opinions it’s not long before I’m sharing a sumptuous meal with Simon – except on these occasions Jesus is absent. The conversation has a negative edge and my demeanor is noticeably lacking in compassion or empathy. I justify myself with long sentences pulled from my intellect attached to eloquent theories like wind-chimes or the sound of clanging gongs; at least they drown out the cries for help from the street. My mind is active but my heart grows cold and Jesus withdraws as our relationship falls quiet.
In contrast, I’m aware that when I open my heart and step across the road, knock on doors and call hurting people from their hiding caves my heart is pounding crazily – even though my mind is bewildered. Jesus is right there and an irrational hope and faith rise up to believe that the Spirit of God will pour out healing and life even through my fumbling attempts to care. If that was my daughter I’d never give up trying I remind myself; remember where you once were when Jesus gently blew dying embers into rising flames within you.
Servant hearts and irrational love for the lost and desperate is a no-brainer once I’ve been carried home on the shoulders of the shepherd who left ninety-nine others just to find me. In fact my greatest privilege is hearing him send me out to do the same. How often? As many times as is needed, for as long as it takes, until every one is found and restored to the family. Greater love has no-one than to lay down his/her life for another.
This was the mandate for any church in the first place. To be a community where hurting people will be loved and accepted as they are introduced to Jesus and encouraged in their journey with him. Everyone has a name given by Jesus that calls forth the destiny and hope he has placed within us to be released. Most are conditioned to be identified by a problem…. “Hello, my name is John, I’m an alcoholic and have been clean for three days.” What if Jesus wants to encourage us to know a better future and to be identified by where we’re going instead of what we have been?
Simon grew into Peter, Saul into Paul, and you and I are becoming more than we could ever have imagined. We’re not going to give up on anyone. Of course we have lots to learn and there are inevitably rough spots along the way. However we’re inspired by Paul who eventually was so confident of his new identity in Jesus that he wrote:
“ I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6)