They say that Jesus was a king, but he lived among the beggars. Biblical stories tell us that he touched the untouchables: lepers; he loved the unlovable: Samaritans; and he gave dignity to the undeserving: women. This is the example I was raised to follow.
What they didn’t tell me however, was that I was only expected to follow the example of Jesus in theory – not in real-life, real-time practice. This contradiction was revealed subtly, mostly in reprimand and disapproval.
I’ve spent my life in the desolate space between holy command and social compromise.
When I was a child, I was instructed not to go “over there” where the untouchable, unlovable, underserving gathered because I was too young, and a girl, and therefore, such a place filled with such people was just too dangerous.
As a young woman, the reason was less descriptive: “over there” was simply off limits to a young white woman of my virtue.
And as a girl turned woman, there were always the unspoken realities slipping around like elusive shadows holding me down, or back, or inside, or in a state of hesitation.
Despite that, I’m curious. And I believe in love. I believe that love has a power greater than any thoughts or behaviors of human power. It is from within this belief system that I’ve always had very high standards for myself: “unrealistic” is the adjective most people choose to describe my drive. Nonetheless, my faith in the command to follow the stories of Jesus is unflinching. Again, others would choose a different descriptor: pigheaded perhaps?
In my defense, I have to ask: how can I hear the stories of Jesus week after week after week, year upon year, sing of his majesty, and feel the stirrings in my soul from the commands of the Son of God and NOT respond with an “unrealistic”, “pigheaded” fervor?
“Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sister, your relatives or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.’” [Luke 14: 12-14 NIV]
“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) [John 4:9 NIV]
“Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:45 NIV]
“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” [Luke 22:27 NIV]
“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheaus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’” [Luke 19: 5-7 NIV]
These are just a few of the stories that shaped my understanding of earth life, and in learning them, I understood them to be commands. I’m not saying that I follow them well, just that they have shaped my life. They have left a lasting impact on how I see my fellow humans and how I believe I am called to live.
Here in the land where oil flows from the desert sands into the pockets of a few, and the rest of the population slaves and sweats and travails in daily drudgery in the name of “development”, once again I am reminded that I exist in the desolate space between holy command and social compromise.
“Stay away from those people!” I am told by those who swim in oil-made luxuries.
“Go!” My heart whispers, stirring my soul like a tickle in my throat that won’t be cured.
“They are criminals,” I was told;
“They are dirty,” I am instructed.
“It’s just the way it is,” I hear;
“You can’t cross those boundaries,” I am commanded.
Black oil swells at their feet as bejeweled fingers point at the signs that show me who belongs where; golden bangles punctuate the definitions as arms gesture the emphasis of their words.
Thin, brown people toil in stone and grit, arms and feet bare, voices soft, smiles weary.
then follow my heart and the whispers in my soul
and I go.
I go where my bare feet take me.
My bejeweled fingers and arms punctuate the air
as I wave hello
and venture into spaces
I negotiate social compromises.
Two of the “servants” at school and the door to their closet-room that they share with the other 6 “servants” who care for our facility.