She was a young mom with two little children in car seats. She was blasting down the freeway in her black, upscale SUV. She nearly hit me as she crossed way over into my lane marker, going significantly 75 mph on a toll road while texting on her iPhone 6. (Yes, she was close enough to hit me that I could tell the brand and model of her phone!)
I'm sure she was risking her high dollar vehicle and her priceless children because her text message was so urgent that she couldn't wait a few minutes to respond. (Yes, that statement is dripping with cynical sarcasm!) She had been seduced by our always-on and must-respond-instantly culture. In the process, she devalued her children and their safety without thinking about what she was doing.
None of us likes to wait. We want things in a hurry. More than a microwave world, we navigate a micro-second culture. We expect fast results. A Google® search across hundreds of thousands of documents takes microseconds. When we need a solution to a problem, we expect the fix to be a quick one.
This do-it-quickly-and-move-on mentality permeates our approach to relationships. With so much going on in our busy lives, we make snap judgments about people. We weigh their possible demands upon our time compared to the potential benefits we might receive from the relationship. We have several different ways we view people that help us filter out people we don't want to "waste our time"! As crass as all of this sounds, we unconsciously view and filter every day of our lives.
However, if we are ever going to truly view people as Jesus did, we will come to share the passion Jesus demonstrated for each person he encountered in his earthly ministry. We see his passion for people throughout his earthly ministry. John's account of Jesus healing a man born blind is a great example (John 9:1-38). In Jesus' ongoing interactions with the people around him, the Lord demonstrated how we must view people if we are to make a redemptive difference in their lives.
How did Jesus view each person?
The Savior saw each person as someone in whom "the works of God might be displayed" (John 9:4).
Too often, as human beings, we tend to view people in ways that demean their value to God and reveal the diminished value we place upon them. In Jesus' interaction with the man born blind, all the other people around the man viewed him as less than someone special to God. Truth be told, most in the crowd that day didn't value the man born blind as a person at all. Their actions towards him, and talk about him, reveal the stark truth of the filters we use to dismiss people and not invest in them as he did.
The disciples viewed the man born blind as little more than a religious question:
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:1).
When we view someone as a religious question, we never challenge ourselves to address their spiritual needs or involve ourselves in their spiritual care. They are a question to be answered rather than a person to be loved. The discussion sounds religious, but we don't have to "waste our time" or get overly involved with them as a person needing the love and grace of God.
The crowd who saw the man born blind regularly viewed him as little more than a label:
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" (John 9:8 ESV).
When we view a person as little more than a label, we never have to get to know them. We reduce them to a category of people or a group. We strip their personal dignity and uniqueness from them. We deal with them out of our prejudice against or suspicion of that group.
The Pharisees saw the man born blind as a problem to be solved. Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath. They claimed that such healing was a violation of their Sabbath law. And the sign Jesus performed in healing the man born blind was undeniable. The results of the sign were also a blessing to the man. In the process, Jesus had gained even greater notoriety as a healer from God through the events surrounding the sign. This result, of course, was problematic for the Pharisees who opposed Jesus and considered him a sinner:
Some of the Pharisees said, "This man [Jesus] is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner perform such signs?" So they [the people] were divided (John 9:16).
Along with his needs and human dignity, the man was completely lost in their discussion of him as a problem to be solved. The only use that the crowd or the Pharisees had for the man was to answer their questions as they tried to solve the problem. But as he answered their repeated questions clearly and honestly, they grew angry with him — he refused to be dismissed so easily.
When we view a person as a problem to be solved, we don't have to involve ourselves. Our only focus is on solving the problem. We can feel good about ourselves as problem-solvers, and we never have to value the people caught in the middle of the problem.
For me, the saddest example of how not to treat people in John 9 was demonstrated by the parents of the man born blind. The Pharisees drug them into their debate because they were trying to determine if the man was actually born blind, and Jesus actually had healed him. These parents were afraid of being thrown out of the synagogue and losing their relationships in society if they associated themselves with their son. Rather than affirming their relationship with their son, they decided to protect themselves. They chose to view their very son as little more than a biological product:
"We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him" (John 9:20-24).
When we view a person as little more than a biological product, we can treat them any way we want to treat them. We don't even have to give them the right to be born or the right to be protected from harm or the right to find shelter or a safe place to live or a homeland or...
Aren't we tempted to view people in these same categories today?
Notice how the political discussions about people today in our world's election cycles tend to view people as votes to get, problems to solve, groups offended, people marginalized, and pawns to be manipulated. Notice how the news reporting of disasters views people — headlines, victims, and story fodder. Notice how we tend to use "us" and "them" language when talking about people different from us. Notice how easily we slip into characterizations of people based on labels, categories, problems to be solved, and by their impact on us, our safety, our finances, and our time.
Am I viewing people as little more than:
- A religious question?
- A label?
- A problem to be solved?
- Or a biological product?
If we are going to view people as Jesus does, we must realize that each needs the work of God done in his or her life!
The Lord Jesus indicated this necessary perspective in dealing with people as he answered his disciples' initial question about why the man was born blind:
[Jesus answered,] "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:3-5).
When we look through the Bible, we find all sorts of people no one would ever expect to honor God. However, many of them are the very kinds of people God used to change history, bring salvation, and restore hope. We cannot know what's in the heart of a person. We don't know the plans God ultimately has for each person. But, we do know this:
Each needs to be connected with Jesus.
Each needs to come to believe in Jesus and come to know God's power, love, and grace through him.
This is the work of God (John 6:28-29).
This is the work Jesus has called us to do in our world!