The other day, I was watching an episode of a TV show, where one character was talking about how he had grown up as the child of a heroin addict, and had to sleep on the street. The other character countered that the first man’s skin color gave him preferential treatment in society. While this dialogue was fictional, it illustrated multiple areas of society where individuals have to overcome the impact of evil in our world.
Thinking through this scripted conversation (which, I suspect, was what the writers hoped that viewers would do), I struggled to find peace with it at first. The two characters were competing with each other, each trying to prove that their life was tougher. It was only when I realized that this argument was a false dichotomy (a scenario where neither of the proposed answers was correct), that I realized an actual truth from the scene: Regardless of whose situation seems to be “worse off”; we are all harmed by sin in this world, and we all need Jesus’ healing. Moral superiority doesn’t come from how much one has been hurt by evil; it can only be found in the One who is truly good: God, Himself.
In response to that truth, it is not incumbent upon followers of Jesus to decide whose life is negatively impacted the most by sin. Instead, we are called to bring the message of life to all people who are harmed by sin.
We remember that Jesus often helped out the sick, the marginalized, and even the outcasts of society. However, He also spoke with powerful people – military, commercial, and religious – and worked good in their lives, as well. Everyone needed healing, and a new life that He would offer. Everyone was impacted by the consequences of sin – both their own sin, and the general corruption of this fallen world brought on by the sin of humankind in general.
As the dialogue that I watched from this TV episode illustrated, the answer was not in judging whether those affected by others’ addictions or racism were in a more challenging situation, and therefore entitled to some sort of moral high ground. That is what I call “TV morality”, which is often pretty fictional. The answer is that both men were in a bad situation, caused by the sin of others. Both needed healing, and – if they were actual souls and not just fictional characters – both would need the salvation of Jesus.
As we consider how to reach out to everyone with the cure to sin’s penalty, we can acknowledge that God calls individual people to specific fields of ministry. Peter mainly preached to Jewish people, while Paul mainly preached to Gentiles. Some are called to a ministry in one location, or to one group of people, while other followers of Jesus serve elsewhere. However, regardless of our primary calling, no one that we meet is beyond hope. Everyone has the opportunity to trade a temporary, discouraging life of self-service, in exchange for the now-and-eternal life of abundance that Jesus offers.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 NIV
The homeless man deserves to know about Jesus, just as much as the white-collar businessman. The woman living in a mansion deserves to know about Jesus, just as much as the one living in a public-housing apartment. The glamorous need to know, just as much as the plain. The poor need to know, just as much as the rich. The super-intelligent need Jesus, just as much as the rest of us.
It can be all too easy to fall into one of two ruts:
- In one case, we reach out to those like us, or who are easy to share with. We talk about Jesus with those that we know will be polite and professional, and maybe limit our conversations about faith to those who we expect to believe the same as us. Here, we run the risk of not reaching out to those who are different from us, or who might reject us or treat us poorly if they don’t agree (even if they still need to hear the truth in a loving manner).
- In the other case, we reach out to a group that we think really needs Jesus, because we are pre-disposed to think that this group is “really sinful” or “really needs help”. Here, not only might we need to re-think our own biases and expectations, but also make sure that we’re not being too farsighted. We might desire to reach out to people in a distant land, or those who live in a different part of town. That’s great, if God has called some of us to do so; however, let us not forget those who are already “adjacent” to our lives, and who have just as great of a need for learning about Jesus.
Like the TV scene described at the beginning of this article, identifying those – from people who haven’t yet accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior – whose lives “need Jesus the most” is not the point. Just as everybody needs food and water, everybody who has sinned (i.e., everybody) needs to find the salvation that Jesus offers.
Reaching out to people in love, and combining both the servant-focused actions and uncompromising teachings of Jesus, is not a matter of “right and wrong”. Instead, each of us is called to reach out to anyone that God puts in our path, and prompts us to share with. May we not worry about who sins more or less (regardless of whether or not they have chosen to align themselves with God), or who has been impacted the “most” by sin’s deadly effects. Instead, may we focus on directing everyone that we can to Jesus, the only one who can save any of us from the curse of sin.