I heard a story of a charity organization that located a bunch of needy families around Thanksgiving. They invited these families over for a large dinner and had a wonderful time. Children and mothers enjoying a warm meal and laughing together. As the dinner concluded someone from the charity noticed there were no fathers in attendance. As they asked the families and began looking around they eventually went outside to the parking lot and discovered all of the dads sitting in their cars waiting for their families to finish. They were simply too embarrassed to join in on the dinner because they could not adequately support their family the way they wanted to.
It’s so easy for us to attempt to help people and miss the real need.
Jesus is a master at discovering our real need. He has this amazing ability to sift through what we think we need and get to the heart of the issue.(1)
And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:2, 3 ESV)
I love this little story because it makes a big point. Why did Jesus touch the leper? Back then, if someone like Jesus touched a man like this leper he would be considered infected as well and not allowed into the temple anymore. Why take such a risk of your personal reputation Jesus? If Jesus is God, he could have just snapped his fingers or spoke a word or shot a spit wad through a straw. Why did he touch the leper in order for him to be healed?
Jesus touched the leper because he knew his real need was more than just physical healing. God’s power healed his body. Jesus’ touch restored his dignity. It’d probably been many years since this man had been touched by anyone. Back then, a leper was banished from his home and city. They were forced to wear a bell around their neck and people would shout “Unclean!” whenever a leper appeared. This man needed his body healed but he also needed his humanity restored. Jesus addresses both with one touch.
We, as humans, are dynamic creatures with a variety of wounds, issues, needs, and questions. As a pastor in Portland says, we are a “beautiful mess”. Perhaps we can do unintentional harm when we try to simplify people. Besides, faith is an intellectual and emotional venture. We can help a friend understand how God loves us and wants a relationship with us. However, if that friend used to get beat by his dad and his dad claimed to love Jesus, that friend can nod his head in understanding but never trust that God is actually good. Do we validate the raw needs in others lives or just cover them up with more information?
May God show you the real needs in people’s lives. May you sift through the facades, masks, and walls others put up and see the true heartfelt need. May you see people the way Jesus see them. May compassion grow as we listen intently and love recklessly.
1. For more on this, read John 21. “Do you love me?” Despite how grand I think my theological understanding of God may be, his questions for me will always be simple ones. And simple questions have a way of being the most profound.