Individualism is an idol of the American, modern society. It is at odds with loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said loving your neighbor is just like the greatest command of loving God with everything you have. Jesus puts others squarely in front of you.
Others. We have to see. Actually, truly see. Get outside of my individualistic way of seeing things and really see. Get outside of what is simply best and comfortable for me.
Matthew 25:31-46. The hungry. The thirsty. The stranger. The naked. The sick. The prisoner. Whatever you do for the least of these you did for me. Whatever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me. Jesus said that. In other words, love your neighbor as yourself. Don’t just see them, really see them. You cannot really see until you put your politics down. You cannot truly see until you dig deep to rid yourself of prejudices. You cannot really see until you put aside and rid yourself of your fears and insecurities. For a lot of us, our direct neighbors are not among those who are described in the above passage. But if you look hard enough, or simply watch the news (for instance the current refugee crisis in Syria), it is evident the needs that are there. And once you really see, what are you to do?
Matthew 11:2-6. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
The prophets, in critique of their own people, were constantly reminding of the dangers and sins of idolatry and injustice. Idolatry: other gods, becoming mixed in their hearts. Not following God and serving him only. Injustice: lacking in how they did not treat the poor, the widow, and the orphan as commanded. To the point of not just improper care for them, but actually oppressing them. Jesus announced the kingdom of God in deeds and in words. He was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He is what they pointed to. He restated the warning of idolatry and injustice in his answer to the question of what the greatest command is. Love God. Love neighbor. In these things there will be no idolatry and no injustice. Right relationship with God, right relationship (& actions) with others.
When John the Baptist, in prison, wanted to know if Jesus was the awaited Messiah, Jesus responds with the miraculous (signs of the Kingdom, things that swirl around the Kingdom) and specifically that the good news is being preached to the poor. This is an echo of Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” In the synagogue, Jesus read this text and said it was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:14-21). But why the emphasis on the poor? Did Jesus not also bring the good news to the rich, the well to do? Did he not interact with the rich ruler? Did he not interact with the religious leaders who were mostly of the upper class? Yes, but…
The poor are the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner. The poor are the marginalized. The poor are often oppressed. The poor are not the ones invited. The poor are often the ignored. The poor are looked down upon. But this is where we find Jesus. This is where he proclaimed the good news. This is a sign of the Kingdom as much as the signs of the miraculous. The gospel reaches to the farthest corners of the marginalized and the oppressed.
Where people are marginalized, Jesus is there. Where people are oppressed, Jesus is there. Where people are left out and not invited, Jesus is there. Where people are ignored, Jesus is there. Where people are looked down upon, Jesus is there. He invites them to the Kingdom, to the great banquet, to seats of honor.
A while ago my daughter came home from church and asked a question. She had misunderstood something that had been said by the speaker concerning the cost of the temple of Solomon and God’s dwelling there. She asked me if the speaker meant that God doesn’t dwell, or go to, where the poor are. I told her it is the exact opposite. As a matter of fact, he is often in the last place where we think he would be. Sometimes we get the idea that Jesus is bottled up within our church buildings where the presence of God is because there are two or more gathered in his name. But if we really look outside our church doors, we may be surprised to find Jesus at work among those where we think he would never be.
And if Jesus is there at work among the oppressed, the marginalized, the outcast, the ignored, the looked down upon- so should we be.