Friends in Low Places

On Fridays during this season of Lent, I'm posting readings from The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus and its companion devotional. Today's post is an excerpt from The Way: 40 Days of Reflection.     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV)   Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth was very short—only eight words. After reading the text for the day, from Isaiah 61:1-2 (quoted in the passage above), he said, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Isaiah’s words defined Jesus’ ministry. He was born a king, but he did not look, dress, or act like any other king the Jewish people of Palestine had ever known.   Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, born in a stable, and brought up as the son of a handyman in a town that was considered “the other side of the tracks.” His father Joseph was in fact a carpenter, but in a day when homes were built of stone, a carpenter was in fact a handyman—building things, making tools and furniture, repairing farm implements. And with regard to his hometown of Nazareth, Nathaniel captured it well when, upon hearing where Jesus was from, he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”   In his ministry, Jesus was most often drawn to the poor, the sick, and the sinners. He had special compassion for the nobodies, the ne’er-do-wells, and the socially unacceptable. It was this compassion that captivated my heart and led me, as a fourteen-year-old reading the Gospels for the first time, to want to be his follower. This King had “friends in low places.” He humbled the proud and lifted up the lowly. He reminded us that the truly great must play the part of the servant. He taught that when sitting as a guest at a party, we should take the least important seat. He demonstrated concern for the lost and great compassion for those who were considered lowly.   Those who follow Jesus find ways to show compassion, seeing others as Jesus sees them—as dearly loved children of God. In the process of building relationships, reaching out with compassion, and demonstrating love in tangible ways; we actually become more human, more the people God intended us to be.   I think about Gerry. An executive with a large telecom company, Gerry had an idea (the Bible might label it a “vision”) of starting a Bible study for men in prison. God kept putting people and events in his path that pointed in that direction and reinforced his idea. So the following year he stepped out, worked with a nearby prison, and began befriending inmates and mentoring them. Today the program has grown to include more than two hundred church members who are engaged in building relationships and mentoring and discipling men at Lansing Prison and Leavenworth Penitentiary. Lives are being changed through this ministry—not just the lives of the inmates, but also the lives of our members who have been blessed by the relationships they’ve established with the prisoners.   Jesus befriended sinners and taught about a God of second chances. Have you made friends in low places? Are you learning from them and offering them hope?   Lord, help me to see others through the lens of your grace, and to always remember that you are the God of second chances. Amen.

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