Many of us, at some time in our lives, have felt like we were misfits, felt left out. We look around us, and others seem so confident, so sure of themselves and the direction of their lives when we don’t. The gospel writer St. Luke, who was the only non-Jewish New Testament writer, took up the cause of the “outsider.” He understood what that felt like, and he offered hope to those on the margins of society then and sadly, still today. Over two thousand years later, there are still groups of individuals who find themselves on the margins of society and are treated differently. In Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation of the Bible, The Message, we find these words: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang, Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.” [Luke 6: 37]
As Christians, how we treat other people speaks louder to the world regarding the strength and truth of our beliefs than anything we teach or even the moral and good lives we try to live. If we are self-serving, self-promoting, unforgiving, and arrogant in our comments, our actions, our relationships, that will drown out what we have to say. When we hold grudges and refuse to forgive each other, we only serve to confirm to the skeptics their suspicion that Christianity is a facade with no real power to change people’s hearts.
We live in some challenging times, and it is so important for Christians to take a definitive stand. With the anonymity of social media, and the rapid pace of sites that allow a platform for all forms of negativity and hatred to flourish unchecked, we must resist. Right here in our own community we saw a glaringly sad example when a disturbed young man, struggling with his demons, posted video on Facebook and following that were some hateful, cruel anonymous comments. We experience on an almost daily basis, name calling and derogatory posts on Twitter. These kinds of horrible things happen so frequently, we are numb to them. That is wrong!
On the other hand, if we are genuinely overwhelmed with the grace and forgiveness that God has shown to us in Jesus, and if the love of God is flowing out of our hearts and manifesting itself in our relationships, then we are witnesses to something that is foreign to the world and its approach to God. When a Christian loves and forgives liberally, especially at some cost to their property or reputation or health, the unbeliever sees something radically different than what he is familiar with in the world.
Jesus said if we only love those who love us, that’s how the world operates, and there is no benefit for us. Jesus said we are to love all people. We are to pray for them, meet their needs and stand in solidarity with them. The apostle Paul urges us to forgive others as we have been forgiven. If we Christians can just do that, then the unbelieving world will see something unfamiliar to them, something divine, and something they know they need. They will see the Spirit of Jesus Christ at work in us.
Jerry Oliver is the Pastor for the Mayfield United Methodist Church and the Northampton United Methodist Church at Fish House.