Earlier this year I wrote that Ann Arbor needs grace. So how do we further show grace in 2014? One of the most prolific ways to spread grace is to acknowledge people. In Matthew 9 there is a powerful story of a woman encountering Jesus.
The Gospel is full of stories of Jesus' interaction with women for good measure. According to the culture and partly due to the law, a rabbi, a religious leader, a priest was not to speak with women according to religious matters. Many of the men considered it too hard for a woman to understand, and they would be shunned, even more it was deemed unacceptable for a woman who was created to be second in nature, to lead those who were first made in God's image.
Jesus though continually invests in women as leaders, people like Mary Magadelene (who was not a prostitute according to the Gospel story) but was afflicted was renewed, and able to contribute to the finances of the disciples, and followed Jesus during his preaching tour and was the first to recognize Him alive. Further, in John 4 Jesus uses a Samaritan woman to reach her entire town with the Gospel. These actions are scandalous in the eyes of first century religious and political leaders, and even in some circles today.
But back to the crux of Matthew 9, a woman is deemed unclean because she has been bleeding for years. This woman is unclean which means she may not touch anyone without also making them unclean. Think on that for a moment, this woman has been without touch for most of her adult life for fear of an abstract noun like "unclean." Yet she is searching for Jesus. She wants to see Him. She touches Jesus. When she does she is healed.
In the midst of the crowd clamoring for Jesus' attention a woman grabs hold of the hem of his clothes and finds healing, and then tries to slip away. Jesus, doesn't let it happen, and wants to know who touched Him. For fear the woman does not speak at first, afraid of the law, afraid of Jesus reaction because of course he is as we would call it today "religious." She has been burned, stunned and hurt by these people before, will Jesus be the same? But he does turn around, and looks at her. Jesus tells this woman, "Take heart, your faith has healed you." Jesus does not meet her with critique or distaste. He meets her with love, and care. Ann Arbor asks us will we be the same? Will we be like Jesus, or the religious elite?
This however is the approach that many of us have forgotten. We come to church and go home. We may even bring our children to youth group when there is nothing better going on. We sit back and criticize our church, our leaders, our neighbors and especially the "unclean." But do we we ever turn and acknowledge that they are a person made in the image of God as well? Are we excluding others without ever turning to realize who it is that we have ignored and ostracized?
In our lives it is easy to notice that there are many people looking for a community. People are desperate for friendships, for someone to walk through this life with. Even more many of them may not look like us, act like us, or believe like us. But instead of noticing they are unclean will you turn around this year and help them take heart?
As we face 2014, let's drop the rejection and our self-righteousness. Church is not where people should face rejection and hatred, they should meet God's acceptance and approval through each of us. As Paul says we are Christ's ambassadors, and God is making His appeal through us. Ann Arbor will know God through how we respond. In 2014 I pray the church repents, that is turns around and sees the faces of the many people we have left outside.