Bearing Burdens by Befriending the Outcasts

Bearing Burdens by Befriending the Outcasts

Bearing Burdens by Befriending the Outcasts.

“Continue bearing each other’s heavy burdens. In this way you will be fulfilling the Torah’s true meaning, which is upheld by the Messiah Christ. Keep carrying one another’s overwhelming loads, and you will be truly obeying Christ’s Royal Law of Love. By your ongoing offer to stoop down and help shoulder one another’s crushing burdens, you will be completely submitting to the way Christ expects us to live.” (Galatians 6:2).

Bear (Greek, “bastazo”) – to carry, to carry off; to take away, to take up with your hands; to shoulder or share a weight. This word is in the continuous present tense, which means to continue doing so, an ongoing effort and not a one-time activity.

Burden (Greek, “baros”) – a crushing load; an extremely heavy weight; an overwhelming burden; an oppressive weight too heavy for one person to carry alone.

Fulfill (Greek, “anapleroo”) – to accomplish in its entirety; to complete; to perform fully; to observe perfectly.

Law of Christ (Greek, “nomos”) – the teachings of the Messiah that highlight the intended meaning of the Law of Moses; Christ‘s words in the Gospels that clarifies the heart of Torah; the set of biblical expectations established by Jesus that reveals what the Lord had in mind in the Hebrew Scriptures; the spirit of the Law of Moses behind the letter of the Law, as expressed by Jesus Christ.

Bearing the Cross. Why was burden-bearing so near and dear to Paul’s heart, so much so as to believe that when one bears the burdens of others, one in fact is completing the expectations of Christ? Perhaps Paul focused on burden-bearing because this human act of love perfectly described what Christ did on the Cross for our salvation. The whole point of Christ’s burden-bearing was to heal and ransom us out of His profound love for us. Burden-bearing represents and demonstrates God’s love for us, and summarizes all that he did on Calvary. So when we bear the burdens of another, we are participating in the love Christ has for others. When we pick up our cross daily, we can’t help up but bear the burdens of others. “Surely it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows and our pain of punishment that weighed Him down. God has placed on Him the guilt and sin of us all… Through what He experienced, my Righteous Servant will make many righteous, in right standing before God, for my Servant bears the burdens of their sins.”  (Isaiah 53:4, 5, 11).

The Premise. Caring for others reflects the heart of God, and is grounded in the Biblical fact that all human life is sacred. There is a shared human dignity between all people, regardless of race, health, age, faith, status, station in life, the country of origin. Burden-bearing begins with those closest to us… our spouse, our children, our extended family, our church community, our neighbors in need, in that order. Any father or mother who, through a personal distance, or indifference, or overwork, or arrogant disdain, doesn’t bear the burdens of those closest to him/her in a personal and profound way, then that person is disobeying Christ. That person will not fulfill the law of Christ. That person does not reflect the heart of God.

“Many dishonest tax collectors and other notorious sinners often gathered around to listen as Jesus taught the people. This raised concerns with the religious leaders and experts of the Law. Indignant, they grumbled and complained, saying, ‘Look at how this man associates with all these great sinners and welcomes them all to come to him!’” (Luke 15:1-2). “Jesus and His disciples went to have a banquet with Levi Matthew. Among the guests in Levi’s house were many tax collectors and notable sinners sharing a meal with Jesus, for there were many kinds of people who followed Him. But when the religious scholars and the Pharisees found out that Jesus was keeping company and dining with public sinners and tax collectors, they were indignant. So they approached Jesus’ disciples and said to them, ‘Why is it that someone like Jesus defiles Himself by eating with sinners and tax collectors?’ But when Jesus overheard their complaint, He said to them, ‘Who goes to the doctor for a cure? Those who are well or those who are sick? I have not come to call the ‘righteous,’ but to call those who are sinners and bring them to repentance. Then He added, ‘Now you should go and study the meaning of the verse: ‘I want you to show mercy, not just offer me a sacrifice.’”(Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17).

Jesus is really enjoying Himself. He is the guest of honor at a banquet hosted by His newest disciple, Matthew the tax collector, and He is making Himself at home. Because Levi Matthew made a lucrative career out of collaborating with the hated Romans, to the extent of extorting money from his own people, Matthew is an outcast in Jewish society. He was considered by the religious establishment to be unclean, a public sinner, and was not even allowed to worship in the local synagogues. It makes sense then that the only friends Matthew had were other outcasts, other sinners as judged by the Temple authorities. Add to that the fact that there were many public sinners who followed Jesus from place to place, and there was sure enough quite the unsavory group at Matthew’s house.

Befriending those on the margins. Jesus was happy to be known as the “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). He loved eating with the riffraff, to be at table with them. He thought that sharing a meal was a sacred time of fellowship. It was a way to unite with people, to identify with them, to enjoy social interaction and deepen friendships. It was a natural part of Jesus’ personality that He broke bread with those on the margins and made them the center of His attention. After all, He knew what it felt like to be judged and rejected. Jesus found that the outcasts didn’t have any pretensions, they didn’t pretend to be holy or respectable. He found their authentic honesty to be refreshing. They thought that since they were already being judged for their actions, why bother hiding anything? They were used to living with the reality of their bad reputations, so why pretend otherwise? Jesus accepted them and went out of His way to build a sense of trust with the outcasts. He made it a practice to eat with anyone who invited Him to the table, Pharisee or sinner. But His everyday companions tended to be those who were on the outside looking in. “For I have come to invite the outcasts of society and the sinners, not those who think they are already on the right path.” (Matt. 9:13).

Religious Outcasts. In the middle of Matthew’s banquet, a Pharisee came to the door in a huff, expressing his disgust with Jesus. He told Jesus that He was defiling Himself by eating with these reprobates. The Pharisee then confronted the disciples, asking them how they could let their celebrated rabbi associate with such sinful characters. Like all Pharisees, this man was making a blanket judgment. The Pharisees called people sinners for any number of offenses, ranging from public sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, to those Jews who didn’t ritually wash their hands before eating. Sinners could be those who didn’t tithe properly, or loved to eat on fasting days. Sinners could be those who didn’t pay Temple tax. In the Pharisees’ mind, sinners could be anything from notorious criminals to impious Jews who don’t worship in the Temple or attend synagogue regularly. Matthew’s group at the table were a wide range of sinners, and the Pharisee rejected the whole lot of them.

Mercy. Finally, Jesus had enough of this self-righteous Pharisee. “Listen, now,” He said to the accusing Pharisee. “You shouldn’t be surprised at my presence with these people. I have come to reach out to the lost, and gather them in. My mission is to offer myself to those who realize they need me. Why reach out to people like you, who think they are sufficiently righteous and don’t need my grace. You think you are well, and don’t need a doctor. My friends here know they need grace to restore their lives. Now here’s what I want you to remember from the prophet Hosea… ‘I would rather have you show mercy than offer sacrifices.’ Get off your religious pedestal and show some mercy to people who are obviously in need.”

Burden-Bearing through Touch. Reading the gospel accounts, it seems that Jesus used touch in His healing more often than not. There were some passages that suggested He preferred touch, such as Luke 4:40, “The touch of His hand healed everyone who came to Him.” Jesus’ divine method of healing primarily included the human touch. He engaged in a ministry of touch, because He knew how the human body was made. He was the co-Creator and realized the importance of touch as He met with people in every situation imaginable. Jesus knew that nothing establishes the human connection like touch.

Embracing the Unclean. He fully knew how important touch was to those who were before Him, and so He was remarkably assertive with His touch. A divine distinctive in His ministry was that He loved to touch the untouchable. He literally embraced those who were overlooked, like women, children, or those who were considered unclean by the religious establishment. The perfectly Clean One was more than happy to connect with the unclean ones, those rejected by the religious leaders, those who were considered too impure to even worship in the Temple. The religious leaders were upset and befuddled by Jesus’ low standards in His social contact. Their list of those considered unclean, the people who were not to be touched for any reason, included: the sexually immoral such as the prostitute and adulterer; a dead body; anyone with leprosy or an infectious disease; a woman who was menstruating; tax collectors, because of their treasonous work and their daily contact with Gentiles; Samaritans, since they were considered half-breeds and not fully Jewish; the demoniac, because the person had an unclean spirit; Gentiles, because they weren’t a part of the Chosen People and didn’t obey Law; shepherds, because of their daily contact with dirty sheep and the blood from the sheep’s scrapes and cuts. These people were all untouchables and considered outcasts from the Temple operations.

The Power of Purity. Jesus went about His ministry business as usual, thumbing His nose to the religious establishment as He established a human connection through touch to every one of these untouchables. Furthermore, it was thought that the person touching an unclean person would himself become unclean, that the impure would defile the pure. Jesus once again turned the tables on the leaders by proving that religious myth to be untrue. The unclean are not religiously contagious, Jesus said through His actions. Jesus released a far different contagion. Instead of becoming unclean, Jesus’ purity overpowered the uncleanness and released wholeness and health. Jesus told the unclean, “Be clean!” And His purity had more power than the defilement. Jesus was contagious all right, and He spread His wholeness everywhere He went. Those religious leaders did not understand any of this, they were mystified and didn’t know how to curtail His unexpected ministry to the very people who they rejected.

Examples of outcasts, the unclean, and the untouchables who established personal contact with Jesus through touch or friendship:

(1.) The Prostitute (at a Pharisee’s house – Luke 7:37);

(2.) The Tax Collector (Zacchaeus and Matthew – Luke 19:1-10Luke 5:27-32);

(3.) The Dead Body (a man and a young girl – Luke 7:11-17; Luke 8:49-56);

(4.) The Leper (a man with an advanced case – Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12);

(5.)  The Demoniac (a woman in a synagogue – Mark 1:26; Luke 13:10; Mark 9:14-29);

(6.) The Woman with a Distressing Condition (Mark 5);

(7.)  The Samaritan (the woman at the well – John 4);

(8.)  The Gentile (the Canaanite woman – Matthew 15:26-28);

(9.)  The Sinners (Matthew’s outcasts – Luke 15:2; Matthew 11:19; Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15);

(10.) Women (throughout the Gospels).

Current Outcasts. So who is not getting enough human touch these days? Who would be considered untouchable? Which people might be dying, literally, just to receive some human connection, a skin-to-skin touch, someone who could help bear the burdens of loneliness or rejection? We can easily come up with a list of unfortunates who don’t get enough human contact… residents of a nursing home; abandoned new-born babies in the birthing centers; children in understaffed orphanages or foster homes; isolated workers at home; children with distant, workaholic parents; unvisited patients in a hospital; the mentally ill; the imprisoned, especially those in solitary confinement; those sick with unpopular diseases; the shut-ins at home without family; the wife of an apathetic or self-centered husband. There are so many now who need the touch of Jesus. A follower of Christ, who truly follows in the way of Jesus, who wants to bear the burdens of the suffering, can’t help but touch the burdened and provide the presence of Christ.