Submitted by Jan on Tue, 19/11/2013 – 12:38
Year C (2012-2013)
Bible Book: Luke / Lukas
Chapter: 23
Verse: 35 – 43

This passage is drenched in grace! Full stop! Amidst the reigning chaos during the crucifixion, we see a simple but powerful happening that teaches us a lot about the heart of Jesus. Jesus never convicts or condemns the sinners hanging next to him. Jesus never points out their sins or demands an explanation from either of the men. He simply forgives a murderer, an outcast – probably a marginalised man in society.

A distinctive characteristic of the Gospel of Luke is the writer’s eye for people in the community who drew the ‘short straw’ – the marginalised if you will. Reading through this gospel one sees his particular concern for the poor, women (he mentions thirteen women who are not named in the other gospels), children, tax collectors and Samaritans. This is such an important feature of Luke’s gospel that Degenhardt labelled it the “gospel of the poor”.

Choosing a text for this reflection was not difficult, since Luke had such an eye for the poor and those who were marginalised.

My question today is simple – Do we share the same eye for the poor and marginalised of our time – especially people who are pushed to the margins because of HIV? Or have we grown so accustomed to the pain and suffering caused by HIV and poverty that our eyes are closed? Maybe, instead of asking if we have an eye for people in pain, we should ask ourselves if we have a heart for them?

The immediate reaction of many of us would be “of course we have”, but our lives and choices often do not reflect our supposed conviction. I find that people often confuse giving money with having a heart. Of course it is important to give money, the Bible clearly teaches us that. Many organisations exist because of the generous donations of people who believe in the good work they do. But is that really enough? Does that really show our heart? Does giving money exempt us from other basic responsibilities toward people who have less?

Like many congregations, we organised a ‘blanket project’ at our church this winter. One Sunday evening our high school youth (aged 13-17), most of them attending private high schools, helped us to hand out the blankets. In the feedback session afterwards the kids were stunned by what they saw. Some of them had never seen people sleeping on carton boxes and under newspapers before. It was shocking to realise that some of our youth went all the way through primary school without ever being confronted with actual poverty; this while living in a country facing severe poverty. To see people sleeping in the doorway of a post office on carton boxes was however not their biggest disillusionment. They were stunned (to silence in many cases), that we only had to walk 200 meters down the road to the Parkview Post Office to find “these” people! A post office surrounded by beautiful and expensive houses.

Most of these children’s parents are gracious contributors to projects of this kind, but that is clearly where it stopped! Don’t get me wrong. I (together with almost 300 people who received a blanket) am thankful for financial contributions, but our responsibility to people who live on the margins of society simply does not stop there.

I enjoy the “Peanut” cartoons and have often used them as illustrations in sermons. In one cartoon, Lucy approaches Charlie Brown with a piece of paper and a pen, and says, “Here, sign this. It absolves me from all blame.” Then she goes to Schroeder with the same paper and says, “Here, sign this. It absolves me from all blame.” Finally, she comes to Linus: “Here, sign this. It absolves me from all blame.” As Lucy walks away, Linus says, “Gee, that must be a nice document to have!”

Just as Lucy’s document cannot absolve her from blame, so giving money alone cannot absolve us from our responsibility towards people who live on the margins in our time! Let us ask God to open our eyes again for the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of people in our immediate surroundings. Let’s treat all people with respect and dignity. Let’s stop finding excuses and explanations for poverty and HIV, and start showing grace. Grace shown to a sinner on the cross. The same cross that drips with grace for you and me.

To think about:

1) Are the poor somewhere out there, or are they on our doorsteps? What can we do in our community to reach out to people in need?

2) It is wonderful to give physical aid to the poor (and we can never stop doing that), but what more can we do. How can we restore humanity to the marginalised people of our communities?

3)What is God really asking of us in this context, when he is telling us to have grace with others?

Written by: Rev Wynand du Preez, Pastor at “Parkkruin Familiekerk” in Parkview, Johannesburg

Author: du Preez W (Rev)
Language: English

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