One of the things I appreciate about Portland is the focus you find here on the individual. I spend a lot of time counseling people in the city. Wherever you drive in Portland you see the focus on individuality. I think that is a healthy corrective to our cultural focus on treating people as objects.
We are taught by society to treat people as objects. When we have a cashier check us out we typically see a uniformed cashier who is busy scanning all our items. We finish the transaction and quickly exit the store. When we eat out we have a server, again in uniform, who takes our order, and works hard to serve us our food quickly. Both the cashier and the server are working on volume. The more transactions they complete the happier their boss is. Everyone is frustrated when the cashier or server is chatty and spends too much time with another customer.
When we are getting off the highway we may see one or two homeless folks standing with a sign that describes their need and asks us to help. It is so much easier to look away completely, but if we do look at the scene, we most likely focus on the sign for an instant, get a sense of what has happened, and then turn away.
Jesus Never Turned Away
As a counselor I am realizing how many of the problems we deal with have to do with our propensity to see objects instead of people, and then to treat people as objects. This pattern is at the heart of most of our conflicts. When we interact with our spouse as an object we wound them and damage our marriage. The same thing happens when we relate to family members as objects.
When we look at how Jesus related to those around Him, He always treated them with dignity and He respected them as people.
Look at the story of Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman in Luke 7. This story is a wonderful lesson in how Jesus loves people. You have to see people in order to love them. Jesus really sees people.
Simon was a Pharisee who had invited a prophet home for dinner. As the prophet entered Simon’s home others followed. One of those who came uninvited was a sinful woman. Simon was very unhappy. This woman was ruining his dinner. She was making a scene and acting inappropriately with the prophet. On top of that, the prophet was letting her act shamefully.
Simon came to the conclusion that this man was not really a prophet. He had wasted his hospitality on a man who was hurting, instead of building, his reputation in the town. This whole dinner was a mistake.
Then Jesus spoke. He respected Simon and called him by name.
Jesus told Simon a story about two debtors. It was easy to deal with a theoretical story about faceless, nameless, debtors. Simon answered Jesus’ question dispassionately.
And then Jesus turned everything on its head.
“Simon, do you see this woman?”
Simon had seen this woman and in his mind that was the problem. This sinful woman should not be here. She should not be in my house. She should not be touching a prophet. If you are a prophet you should drive her away.
Jesus, while still talking with Simon, turned to the woman. He encouraged Simon to see her more deeply. Jesus invited Simon to engage with a sinner. Simon had to either rudely ignore this man or acknowledge this sinner. Jesus had painted him into a corner.
Jesus then compared this sinner to Simon. He told Simon about the woman and revealed her humanity. She was more than merely a sinner. She was a person made in the image of God. She knew she was a sinner, and she knew she needed a savior. She knew Jesus was the savior she needed. When He came, she acted. She wept over her sin and washed His feet. She honored Jesus and poured ointment on his road weary feet. She worshipped her Savior. She loved Jesus. She was forgiven.
The Woman Sees
She saw Jesus. Simon did not.
Simon thought he had sacrificed by offering the prophet dinner. Jesus showed Simon respect by revealing Himself to Simon and revealing Simon to Simon. Simon had not seen his sin. He did not need a savior. Jesus showed him otherwise. He did not see God, who had visited him on that day, until Jesus revealed Himself clearly.
Simon had not loved God.
I want to be more like Jesus. I want to see people. I want to call them by their names and enter into their lives. I also want to be more like that woman. I want to repent of my sin and worship Jesus. When I see a uniform, I want to look past the uniform to see the person wearing it. I hope I will speak their name and honor them with the respect each person made in the image of God deserves.
Join the Conversation
How would seeing your parishioners and counselees as people and not as objects change the way you related to and ministered to them?