Do You Want to See the Heart of God?
A meditation on Luke 19:36-44
© 2000 by Paul Thigpen
The boisterous crowds stumbled alongside Him with their dusty palm branches, shoving and shouting. But His gaze was riveted on the destination ahead: There in the distance, stones blinding white in the merciless sun, lay the city: the city He loved with a fury; the city that had broken His heart.
It was both symbol and sample of all He had lived for, all He would soon suffer and die for. In its ancient walls lived the Pharisee with his phylactery, and the widow with her mite; the jeweled harlot, the cut-throat Zealot; the dishonest tax collector and the little girl, newly back from the dead, gathering lilies for her still-dumbfounded papa. A market full of beggars, a temple full of thieves, a city full of all things human, crying out for all things divine.
And Jesus wept.
Do you want to see the heart of God? Then look, here, upon the Face of God-tear-streaked, pain-creased, terrifying in its holy jealousy. Behold how He loves them: fickle little creatures, their days like the grass, their souls like quicksilver; today they adore Him, tomorrow they abhor Him. Before the thorns, before the nails, already his soul is pierced and sorrow flows down, a salty prophecy of the blood to come.
Do you want to see the heart of God? Then look, there, upon the faces of God-tear-streaked, pain-creased, terrifying in their holy need. Behold how He loves them: fragile little creatures, weak and poor, sick and dying, hungry and thirsty, naked and oppressed. The least of His brethren, He suffers with them; He cries through them; He holds them so close to His heart that whatever is done for them is done for Him (see Matthew 25:31-46).
Jerusalem, image of our home in heaven, yet mirror of our home on earth. In Miami or Moscow, New York or Nairobi, Denver or Dublin, in the first century or the twenty-first, whatever may change, some things remain the same: spiritual need, material need; empty hearts, empty hands. Jesus says to our contemporaries what He said to His own: "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!" (Lk 19:42). Even now He stands waiting, watching, weeping for them, ready to gather them up as a hen gathers her chicks, as a shepherd his sheep (see Luke 13:34; Matthew 9:36).
But "how, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Romans 10:14-15).
Could the mission be any clearer? Could the call be any louder? Think of it: Our Lord weeps for our community, for those who surround us every day. The waitress we snub; the boss we complain about; the driver we cut off in traffic, the child next door we scold for playing in our pansies.
He weeps as well for those who surround us at a distance, invisible to us but all too visible to Him. The unwed teenage mother; the crack addict; the patient and the prisoner; the exploited laborer; the forgotten great-grandmother, alone in her room.
Can we afford to turn away from His tears?
Our Excuses, His Replies
No doubt we have countless reasonable excuses for closing our ears to His call. But He has a reply for each excuse if we will only listen to His Word.
"I can't possibly be the one God is sending to the lost, the needy, the victims of injustice in my community. Surely He's sending someone else."
"As the Father has sent Me," Jesus says, "I am sending you" (John 20:21). If He was sent to those people in your community, then so are you.
"But I have so few resources to share."
"If anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is one of my disciples," Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42). Do you have a cup of cold water? Find someone who needs it. A few loaves and fishes? A talent or two? He's an expert at multiplying them.
"But I don't feel competent to present the Gospel or plead for justice or call to account the powers that be."
"On my account," says Jesus, "you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses . . . . Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Matthew 10:18-20). "Go therefore and make disciples . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age" (28:19-20).
"But what can just one person do? I feel so small, like a grain of sand on the seashore."
Not a grain of sand, the Lord says, but a grain of salt: "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13-14). Just a dash of savor can make all the difference. "You are the light of the world" (v. 14). Even a little candle turns back the darkness. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast." It only takes a pinch to work "all through the dough" (Matthew 13:33).
"But I'm afraid-of people who aren't like me, and people who are pagan, and people who are wicked in high places."
So was Jonah, but God sent him to a community of pagan foreigners, one of the most wicked cities of his day-Nineveh. Jonah learned that the Lord cared about even such heathen: "Should I not be concerned," He asked the prophet, "about that great city"? (Jonah 4:11). Jeremiah, too, was afraid. But the Lord told him: "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you" (Jeremiah 1:7-8).
"But I have too much to do already just making a living and saving for a rainy day."
"Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness," Jesus says, "and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33). "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . . But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (v. 19-21).
"But I have to care for my family first."
God calls your whole family to reach out to your community; let them join you as you serve. What better way to teach them how to follow Jesus? What better way to bind you together in a common obedience to His will? "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). "My son . . . . do not withold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, 'Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"-when you now have it with you. . . . The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the righteous" (Proverbs 3:21, 27-28, 33).
"But I need to focus first on my personal spiritual growth."
"What good is it," says the Lord, "if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:14-16). "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 John 3:17). If "personal spiritual growth" is your concern, consider how much faster you'll grow spiritually if you give yourself to those in need!
"But how can I feel love for people I don't even know?"
"We love because He first loved us. . . . Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:19, 21). God loved you when you were a stranger to His household; follow His example. Meanwhile, how can you expect to "feel" love until you have acted in love?
"How can I feel compassion for ungodly people whose way of life disgusts me?"
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. . . . But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6, 8). Was God pleased with your way of life before you gave yourself to Him? Did that stop Him from giving Himself for you first?
"But my experience is that those people who need help aren't grateful for what others do for them."
God will be grateful. "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done" (Proverbs 19:17). In the meantime, are you sufficiently grateful yourself? After all, "what do you have that you did not receive" from God in the first place? (1 Corinthians 4:7). If all you have came from Him to begin with, dare you hold back from "lending" it to Him once more?
"But aren't we just pilgrims in the world-a world that God will soon judge and destroy?"
We're no doubt exiles in this world, and we look for another. Sometimes the world itself seems a stranger, a Babylon; its alien tongue sings of alien loves. How can we bear, then, to care for the city of our exile?
Hear God's message of long ago to His chosen people, carried off in chains to ancient Babylon, the type of this passing world. Jeremiah prophesied: "Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jeremiah 29:7).
The welfare of the community is our welfare. The good of the homeless family, the unborn child, the victim of injustice, is our good. If we would be healed ourselves, we must seek the healing of our community.
Our hope is of course in the next world, but our rewards there will be based on how we have cared for others in this world: "Command them to do good," says St. Paul of those, like us, who are wealthy in this world; "to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they make take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
"But didn't Jesus say we are to be 'in the world but not of the world'"?
Yes, and read the rest of His words as He went on to pray to the Father: "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). Like Jesus Himself, we are servants of the world (see Matthew 20:26-28), sent into the world, so that the world might be overthrown, might be "turned upside down" (Acts 17:6).
"But how can I know where to start?"
The answer echoes throughout the Old Testament law, the Gospel calls of Jesus, the apostolic commands: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:27; Romans 3:9; James 2:8). "Neighbor" means literally "near-dweller." You must love those far away as well as you can, of course; but you must love at the very least, love without fail, those who are nearby. If they are close enough to see, to hear, to touch, they are your neighbors; you start with them.
Who Is My Neighbor?
Are we called, then, to serve only those nearby? Does our outreach to our community extend only to the end of our block, and no farther? Might anyone else be our "neighbor"? The question was posed to Jesus long ago, and the answer came swiftly in a story (see Luke 10:29-37).
The familiar "Good Samaritan" of our Lord's parable has become too familiar; the point of the story, in fact, was that he was by no means "familiar"-not "of the family," as that word literally means. He was a foreigner, from a faraway home, with strange clothes and odd accent. He was not like the others, not like the man whose life he saved, not like the priests and Levites who passed on by merely near at hand and not near at heart. But like the Savior of whom he is a type, he brought himself near, made himself a neighbor, leapt over the walls between familiar and unfamiliar, acting like family in order to create a new family, opening the door of his household to bring inside the stranger in need.
The moral of the story comes thundering: "Go and do likewise!" (v. 37). Down the centuries the divine command rolls, drowning out our excuses, demanding our attention. Every day that we delay our response, more hungry souls slip off to eternity, more hungry bodies crumble to dust-the empty souls and empty bodies of our neighbors.
And Jesus weeps.
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