Friday, July 07, 2006


Jesus waded out deep into the chaotic waters of human pain. Rather than breezing painlessly through his some 33 years as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, Jesus daily sloshed around in the mucky misery of human life of his day.

Matthew's Gospel is intent on showing how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. It is Matthew who has a penchant for writing, "And by this [whatever Jesus did or said] the Scriptures were fulfilled..."

Let's pause at Matthew 8:16-17. "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases'" (see Isaiah 53:4).

Notice that this verse is about Jesus' active exorcizing and healing ministry, not about his death on the cross (though I am not saying that Jesus' cross death is not crucial to human liberation and health). Yet, this is way before Jesus' cross death. This is healing in Jesus' ministry, not in his atonement.

Imagine this dusty, 1st century scene somewhere in Capernaum near the shore of Galilee Sea. The sun is setting, Sabbath is ending so that people begin working by bringing the demon-possessed and diseased to Jesus. Surrounded by hundreds of bodies with smelly, infectious flesh, some screaming, others with oozing wounds and sores, bleeding gashes, fevers and heart-breaking cries of pain, Jesus sets about to reverse the curse of sin and death. I worked as an orderly in a Dallas, TX hospital and it was bad enough in the antiseptically clean emergency room when people came in bloody pain. All the misery that the first Adam got the human race into by his disobedience, Jesus is liberating people from by his compassionate obedience. Death is meeting life and life wins.

"Oh," thinks Matthew as he writes this event, "this is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53." Usually when a Jewish writer quotes part of a verse, he intends the readers to think of the whole text. In this case the whole text would be Isaiah 52:13-53:12, known as one of "The Songs of the Suffering Servant." I am convinced that Jesus purposely intended to live out what Isaiah wrote (see, for example, R.T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament).

Just previous to Isaiah 53:4 which Matthew quotes directly, we read, "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering" (Isa. 53:3 NIV).

Jesus was a person characterized by sorrows, i.e., a sorrow-full man. The word "sorrows" is literally "pains." The word "familiar with" means "closely acquainted with through diligent involvement/inspection." Jesus was neither emotionally detached nor clinically remote. He was physically, hands-on, emotionally, wholly engaged in the full range of human suffering and pain.

There were doctors in Jesus' day. Luke, another gospel writer, was one of them. Jesus, as you recall, was a carpenter, a teknon, perhaps a stone mason. He was, forgive the term, a layman. He wasn't a professional religious guy.

I am not a doctor and probably you're not either. If you are, God bless you. But being medically trained is not a prerequisite for engaging the suffering of the world. Jesus did not have to go to the places of pain; he was born smack dab in the middle of horrendous human misery. Some, if not most, of us will need to leave our artificial comforts, to forsake our levees against the Katrina-winds of pain churning the raging waters of human lives, if we want to be like Jesus.

Suburban materialism may be the greatest threat to the Gospel of the kingdom of God in the USAmerican church. It is the number one narcotic against Christ-like engagement with this pain-filled planet, a whole planet becoming more like Jesus' Galilean country every day.

So, where are the places of pain? Global Mapping International has mapped the "human suffering index." (At the GMI web site, in the list click on "human suffering index.") Even though it's hard to read, check out the "key" to the various colors. Note how many countries are indexed as "extreme human suffering." Check out the U.S. of A.


At 7/07/2006 9:03 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Thanks. The charts are interesting and helpful.
This makes me reflect on our political concerns and activity in this country (U.S.A.) as evangelicals. Why aren't we crying out on behalf of the poor and suffering of this world (like in Darfur- I can't even spell it, probably!) and pooling our resources to give them bread and the Bread of life?

At 7/08/2006 7:00 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Entrenched individualism in the evangelical world keeps us from mobilizing *as a community* to meet massive human community needs.
"Let the Peace Corps do it."

At 7/08/2006 7:50 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Excellent point.

This is such a missing link in our churches and Christianity here. It's not what so many churches are about, at all (or, minimally). We have other priorities, but are they inclusive of all of Jesus' kingdom priorities, as we see in Scripture? Sadly, no.

I do thank God for churches that do try to do something on a significant level here. May this become a regular part of what our expression of faith in this world.

At 7/08/2006 11:54 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

What you wrote is the sad truth: "It's not what so many churches are about, at all (or, minimally)."

At 7/08/2006 9:50 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I'm currently preaching through matthew as interim pastor. The issues you raise here have been the focus as I challange this congregation to rethink the Great Commission.

The link will be something useful.

I'd say it's more than the "entrenched intividualism" that is the problem though, since the radical difference between the wealthy elite and the peasantry was extreem- an issue that Jesus confornts at every turn. I'd guess our wealth lies closer to the root of the problem...

At 7/09/2006 5:22 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I don't disagree that wealth is a major problem in not monbilizing to meet massive needs. Perhaps it's a combination of wealth and entrenched individualism that paralyzes the USAmerican church. I liked your June 22 post on the parables of Matt 13. Good stuff!

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