THE UNDERDOGS: THE REAL STANDARD FOR MEASURING THE STRONG & POWERFUL
When we think about the strong and the powerful in society we usually think in terms of those politicians, celebrities and business moguls that have a ton of cash.
The word “powerful” evokes images of glamour, stupendous wealth, fame, and complete loyalty and subservience from a coterie of aides and dependents.
It brings to mind large business empires, convoys and motorcades, red carpet treatment and political patronage. It makes us envision a select few for whom the world has gone beyond a global village to a global street; we see people who at the drop of a hat can get almost anything they want done. That is usually the life the average person thinks about when he thinks about being strong or powerful.
It is the kind of life many of us aspire to lead.
While the above perspective of power might not be incorrect it certainly is incomplete.
We tend to view as powerful people that bark orders and get anything they want to indulge in while having others sniveling around them.
That is just the way we tend to look at the world.
Compared to most of us Jesus had an unconventional and upside down way of looking at the world.
It was an expression of what made Him the greatest leader the world has ever seen. It was an expression of God’s perspective of power and just what would endear a leader to both God and humanity.
It was an unfolding of God’s definition of power and what it really means to be powerful.
How did Jesus view people? How did He treat and relate with them? And what secrets are therein for us to exploit in being the kind of political, religious, domestic, and civil leaders we ought to be?
The poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed are all groups mentioned in Jesus’ first recorded sermon. It makes perfect sense that the people you mention are the ones that are important to you. The mention of these groups gives a very strong indication of His unconventional perspective.
Indeed, a more than cursory glance at His earthly lifestyle and His parables reveal one salient fact.
God is usually on the side of the underdog- the unjustly oppressed, the one who has no other one to fight for him, the weak, the outcast.
And in order to be effective we must learn to think like Him.
Let’s take a look at a couple of His parables-
The story is told of two men- one was a very rich man, and the other was a beggar who lay at his gate, poor, wretched, and covered in sores. The beggar’s name was Lazarus.
We are not told the name of the rich man.
It is not likely that many of us would know names of more indigent and less privileged people than socialites and celebrities in our cities and countries, unless of course we were working in Camps for Internally Displaced People or Homeless Shelters.
In another story we find three men, with two different responses to the same stimulus. A man on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho fell upon highway robbers who dispossessed him of his belongings and beat him till he was within an inch of his life; while he lay bruised and battered by the way two significant persons happened upon him. They were both distinguished and revered religious professionals; incidentally, their responses to the needy man were similar.
They ignored him and walked on.
We are not told their exact frame of mind, but we have enough maneuverable room to extrapolate.
We don’t know the nature of their engagements but we can deem it safe to infer that whatever they might have been they were considered to be of more importance than the life of a fellow human being, a life they were in a position to save.
Another case in point is this, in those days, the members of the Sanhedrin (the Governing Religious Council) had a tradition that demanded they had no interactions with dead bodies, any one of them who touched a corpse would be considered unclean.
It would seem that these sanctimonious men were over-zealous in their bid to uphold these rules and regulations- rules and regulations that did not have a human face. Anyway, they might have taken them so seriously that they didn’t even seek to confirm if the man had any breath left in him before they crossed to the other side of the road.
There was a third man, a man from a tribe considered by the Jews to be mixed race heretics. The members of this tribe were called Samaritans.
It is this man we have come to refer to as the Good Samaritan (a term that suggests he was an exception to what was prevalent among the Samaritans, even though there is not one single mention of a “Good Samaritan”; the Bible referred to him as “a certain Samaritan”).
This half-breed who was despised by mainstream Jews is the hero of this story and the focal point in the same way that Lazarus was in the previous story.
A certain writer said, “I have actually gone through the Gospels and placed Jesus’ contacts on a homemade graph. With few exceptions, the more upright, conscientious, even righteous a person is, the more Jesus threatens that person. The more immoral, irresponsible, social outcast a person is- in other words, most unlike Jesus Himself- the more Jesus attracts that person. (How is it that Jesus’ followers usually do the opposite?). The free gift of grace descends to whoever will receive it, and sometimes those who have nowhere else to turn are most eager to hold out open hands.”
For the avoidance of doubt the above writer is not attempting to give the impression that Jesus’ position was one of no standards; quite the opposite really. He was attracted to those who were despised and disqualified by men and so were cognizant of the fact that it was only God that could change their conditions.
In many cases the transformation after meeting Him was so complete that there was absolutely no drive or desire to return to what they were previously bound by.
It has been correctly said that “Jesus did not come to save us in our sins, He came to save us from our sins.”
Of all the recorded interactions Jesus had with people the one that strikes me the most is the one in which He met the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar. What struck me most was the degrees of separation between them.
For starters, this woman was a Samaritan, and as we have seen Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. They were the descendants of Jews who intermarried with people from nations that were traditionally avoided by ancient Israel because of the multiplicity of idolatrous activities they were involved in.
Secondly, she was a woman, and it went against conventional practice for a Rabbi to be seen in public talking to a woman.
Thirdly, if there was ever a need to talk to a woman in public it would still have been highly scandalous that it was this woman who was selected. Everyone in the community knew she was a five time divorcee and that she was not married to the man she was living with at the time.
Indeed, some scholars believe that this woman was so ostracized that she had to go get water from an open well in the blazing heat of the noonday sun when it was customary for local Middle Eastern women to draw water in groups early in the morning.
The divide between both of them had racial, social, moral, and religious components and would ordinarily have been an impassable gulf. But for Him it was not one that could not be bridged.
He cut through all these differences and settled on one thing they both had in common- thirst.
Eventually the topic of discussion transcended physical water to spiritual water.
In all the four gospels it is only here we find it recorded that Jesus introduced Himself to anyone as the Messiah.
It is not coincidental that He recruits this woman to be His first missionary.
It is clear that God is attracted to what is traditionally despised by human beings, and is drawn to those that have no other place to turn to. This was the case of the woman at the well of Sychar; He placed faith in her and she rose to meet the challenge. Amazing what the average person can do when a little faith is placed in them.
Another person I can think about is the person we have come to call “Blind Bartimaeus”.
It is interesting and noteworthy that the majority will tend to refer to us by what we used to be, especially when what we used to be has a tag of shame attached to it.
We are wont to recall as “Rahab the harlot” the lady who protected the spies Joshua sent to Jericho.
There is just something about human nature that makes us want to grade ourselves as better than others, and we are inclined towards doing so by keeping derisory descriptions of others.
It’s not uncommon to hear something like, “Don’t you remember Loose Lisa? The one that had all those abortions before she was fifteen”, or “That’s Willy, the fellow who was dealing drugs and raping girls when we were in school.”
The name Bartimaeus literally meant “Son of Filth”, or “Son of Garbage”. Apart from being a blind destitute that subsisted by begging his name was a proclamation that not only deepened the insult but reinforced the adverse circumstances that were his daily experience.
One day, while Jesus walked on the highway out of Jericho He happened to pass by Bartmaeus who, hearing a throng and the footsteps of the crowd that surged around him, asked those beside him what the commotion was about. After he was told who it was that passed that way he cried out “Son of David, have mercy on me.”
The people who were around him tried to shut him up. There was no doubt in their minds that he was being a nuisance and Jesus would have no time for him. However, they were wrong, just like so many that think they have all the answers.
True to His character, and to the consternation of several people, Jesus stopped, turned round, and sent for Bartimaeus. What happened next shows the tendency of the average human being to stay with one when things are rosy, and abandon when things go awry.
The people that had used hard words in their bid to shut him up were the ones that smiled at him after Jesus noticed him; they were the ones that said to him “Cheer up, the Master calls for you.” This man who was obviously persona non grata to others was noticed and promptly healed by God.
Of all the people recorded in the Bible that Jesus healed Bartimaeus is the only one mentioned by name.
The ones that are most important to you are the ones whose names you will remember.
The most important point I want us all to note here is twofold- Not all those we call strong and powerful are actually strong or powerful (the yardsticks most of us use are defective in measurement), and to be strong and powerful the most important standard is an assessment of how we treat the weak.
We might know that the measurement of a man’s strength is by how well he treats his wife and children, but have we gone beyond this to see that the measurement of the strength of all those who consider themselves strong is in how they treat those they are better than?