“Who are these people, and how can I be with them,
so that they can become what God wishes to make of them?”
I really like it when someone comes up with a clear, concise way to say something I feel deeply and am lacking the words to express. They are the kinds of quotes I wish I had come up with!
Nevertheless, I am always grateful for the insights of others, and the ways they are able to get to the point. And the point here seems to be one about our humanity, a point that resonates through our entire human history. Peterson came to this question, what he calls the “pastor’s question” through years of biblical study and reflection, years of pastoral ministry and years of living in relationships with others. And the point was an important one for Jesus, so we’re looking at a 2000-year-old question, at the least.
But it’s really an existential question, one that has existed from our very origins. And persists today.
I think there are three parts to the question.
The first is, “Who are they?” When we talk about others, especially others who are not like ourselves, we commonly use words like them, those or these. How is “these” used in the question? Context helps. They are people. Not things. People. Maybe not people that look, or act, or speak like you, but people.
And in order to find out who they are one must take time to be with them, which is the second part of the question. It’s like the adage to walk in another’s shoes in order to understand who they are. While walking in another’s shoes sounds right, it can still be difficult to understand them. I’ve never had to think about when my next meal would come. But I know one person in three in this county has those thoughts every day.
In order to be with someone, it makes sense to me that I must first acknowledge that I don’t know how they feel, or what they’ve been through, but I can choose to empathize with them, meaning I am willing to accept their feelings and actions as theirs.
Isn’t that how we all want others to accept us?
To answer the third part of the question requires movement from my desires to God’s desires. That can be tricky. Especially when we think we know what God’s desires are, but, in reality, they are really our own desires, which often protect our self interest, and not the interest of others.
In other words, we too often want to help others, but only on our terms. We too often see others as, and here’s a scriptural phrase, “the least of these,” but are they least in God’s eyes? Or ours?
And just what does God’s wish to make of them? Apparently the same thing God wishes to make of you and me. For that answer we can turn to the one who provided the answer. Jesus of Nazareth. The life and death of Jesus is God’s way of being with humanity so humanity can know what it is we have always been intended to be.
That’s what Jesus models for us. What it means to be human. What are the words he used to describe what it means to be human? Loving. Accepting. Forgiving. Reconciling. Compassionate. Giving. Self-sacrificing. Peacemaking. Grateful. Thankful. To name a few.
Who are these people? How can I be with them? So they can become what God wishes to make of them? Pastoral questions to be sure. They get to the point of what it means to be the bearers of Jesus’ Good News.
But are these questions only for pastors?
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.