Love this observation from Marva Dawn in her book In the Beginning, God:
Several years ago I saw a summary of the results of a research project comparing Bible studies in two different kinds of churches according to their wealth. The project findings demonstrate how important it is for us to keep God in the beginning of our reading.
The researchers discovered, as the members of rich and poor churches studied Jesus’ healing of lepers, that more wealthy group participants talked about how they could contribute to the healing of the “lepers” in their neighborhood and larger community. In startling – and more truthful – contrast, Christians from poorer parishes knew that they were the lepers in need of Christ’s healing.
Wealthy Christians concentrated first on how the text applied to them and spurred their actions, but they failed initially to focus on what God does to heal us all. If we know fundamentally how great God’s healing is and, derivatively, how much we all need the Trinity’s actions in our lives, then we will certainly be more compassionately able to minister to others and pass on God’s healing.
What a telling observation!
And how true to experience. How often do we read the Text – or even the text of everyday life – with eyes and fingers pointed outwards at what is wrong with everyone and everything else. I had just never seen such a disposition as yet another sign of the luxury of wealth; a luxury that presumes to fix everything out there with nary a glance at all that is out of sync within ourselves. Or as Jesus classically captured it in parabolic form: we strain to remove specks from the eyes of the world while lethal 2x4s are protruding from our own eyes that end up blinding us and wounding others as those beams smack the world upside the head.
Or to catch another parable snapshot of Jesus: the properly religious man prayerfully patting himself on the back for his performance and purity and religious perfections, while the social leper stands in the dark corner, smiting his chest in deep contrition, “Be merciful to me, the sinner.”
Not only is the social leper the one to go home with an unseen “stamp of approval” from the Father, it’s highly unlikely he’ll be abusing anyone or throwing them under the bus for the “greater good” of religious causes, nor will the humble mercies she extends be at the expense of the dignity of others.
How ironic that it is those that feel the worst about themselves that often are the greatest blessing to others; that it’s as we are falling apart that we can most help others keep it together; that it’s those who are the most insecure and uncertain about this whole “God-thing” that actually bring him the greatest joy because of their simple, unassuming and unheralded kindnesses in the darkened corners of life.
And how tragic that it’s those who proclaim themselves healed and thus healers that can inflict the greatest harm and disservice upon others as they pursue their righteous agendas to save the world.
May we not have to lose everything in this world to correctly see ourselves and the world aright.
Abba, give us the grace to see ourselves as we are, to embrace our insecurities and then let such vision be shaped into the empowering prayer: “Have mercy on me, the sinner.”