Several comments and conversations after yesterday’s post, I want to offer some depth to what I was feeling, because I’m just a local vicar trying to work out my faith rather than being a politician or an economist, and I’ve always aimed to have something positive to say rather than just being another angry blog voice.
- There was a woman who sold sex. Not by choice. She could only hang out with others ‘like her’. Though she wanted to worship, she was always stigmatised for not having a proper job, a proper life. Scum, slag, whore. One day some people came along and actively sought to engage with her, and not for sex. Instead of humiliating her publicly as was the sport of their day, they humiliated the pious who stood in judgement over her. They showed her love.
- There was a woman who had had multiple partners. She was stigmatised by others who would not spend time with her. Multiple fathers for your children and a substance abuse problem lost you friends, made you defiant, lonely and stuck in a spiral of hopelessness. The community had given up on her. Failure. Alkie. One day some people came along who would not allow her to be defined by society’s labels even though their own reputations were at stake. That was part of the change that turned her life around. They showed her love.
- There was a man who was disabled. Society pitied him and those who could, supported him. He knew it was especially good to beg near where the religious gathered, as they were known to be generous. One day instead of begging outside the gates, he was able to dance in. Someone forgotten, abandoned, judged and shunned suddenly placed at the centre of God’s healing of the world. He had been shown love.
- There was a man with mental health problems. He was a bit wild, lived alone, and was stigmatised and best avoided. Loon, head-case, failure. One day some people came along who listened to him even when he ranted at them, who welcomed him into their homes and even bandaged his wounds (well, put a plaster on his toe). For a time he was part of their community, though he was very difficult to love. But he knew he was welcome. They showed him love.
- There was a young man who had grown up with money, and did his best to be good. What he didn’t understand was that being good and showing love are very different. When he was told a story about love for your very different neighbour, it was too much, because given the choice between his personal wealth and loving his neighbour, the wealth would probably win. Showing love is costly.
- There was a parent who hadn’t worked for 15 years, who was de-skilled, who struggled with debt, with substance abuse, and was therefore difficult to employ. Accidentally coming across some people who cared about him even though society labelled him, stigmatised him and gave up on him – with good reason – he began to see hope, began to receive training, and maybe one day will work. They showed him love.
All of these stories are about Jesus; some of them are old real stories, and some of them are new real stories. I tell them not because they ‘prove’ any political point. I tell them because time and time again Jesus had a magnetic attraction to stigmatised people. He came to show the world that God had not abandoned them, and he did that by going to the abandoned and showing them love. It was a love that challenged them (go, and sin no more), but it was first and foremost a love that went to them before the challenge. To challenge someone, make sure they know they are loved.
We can’t go to Jesus for a model of politics. But we can go to him for a model of society. Not colluding in conversations that stigmatise and demonise another group is a start, because if Jesus were to walk in on those conversations or read those blogs he would probably start talking about specks and planks and humiliate us in front of our friends.
Our society is heavily in debt, and the government need to do something, of course. Whatever they do, we are the people on the ground, we are the people who can help the people. The church is the biggest people-movement on the planet. The local church is the hope of the world. Let’s be hope.