Moving Into the Neighborhood
by Rob Weingartner
When I sit down at my desk each morning, I turn to a devotional book entitled “Grace Notes” that is a compilation of daily readings taken from the writings of Philip Yancey. In our performance-driven, merit-based, consumer-driven, appearances-obsessed society, Yancey’s reflections typically remind me that this work I do is not about me. It is about the good news of Jesus Christ, about the Gospel. The life of faith is possible because God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. This action of God on our behalf is introduced well in Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
This morning I was brought up short by something that Yancey wrote: “Most of the medical advances in the treatment of leprosy came about as a result of missionary doctors, who alone were willing to live among patients and risk exposure to study the dreaded disease. As a result, Christian churches thrive in most major leprosy centers.”
How are we known? How am I known? As people who head into trouble to serve and bless, or as people who seek primarily our own comfort and security? Do we show up where life is messy and the need for grace is clearly evident? Or do we prefer to hang with those whose lives are tidy enough that together we can pretend that we are not like those other people who are so obviously needy and broken.
Two things are true about every single person on the face of this earth – Christian, Muslim, Jew, Yazidi, Hindu, Buddhist, billionaire, welfare recipient, venture capitalist, communist, African, Asian, American, atheist, agnostic, Democrat, Republican, Independent, refugee, illegal immigrant, Daughter of the American Revolution – whomever.
God’s Word invites us, no, requires us, to affirm two things of every single person. One, she is created in the image of God. Two, Jesus died for her.
What was it that motivated those early doctors to move into those neighborhoods, to live in community with lepers, risking their own health, relationships and reputations? I think it was this…. Underneath the disfigurement and the sloughing-off flesh and lost fingers and limbs, these grace-filled servants saw individuals who bore the image of God. And they knew that if Christ loved these people so much as to die for them, then who were they, ones sent into the world in Jesus’ name, to walk away.
Every single person. Created in the image of God. One for whom Christ died.
When I remember that, it changes everything.