Tag Archives: labels

God’s People, part 216: Daughter of Abraham

Read Luke 13:10-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

004-lumo-crippled-womanPart 216: Daughter of Abraham. I love this account because it reveals a couple of important things to us about God’s people. First it reveals to us something from the woman who was possessed by a crippling spirit. Second, it reveals something to us about the people who opposed Jesus healing her on the Sabbath. As is the case throughout the Gospels, we see the good, the desperate and the bad reflected to us in all of “God’s people”, and how God responds to each of them.

Let us look at the woman disabled by a “crippling spirit”. She was clearly a woman who would have been shunned. If you can picture her, she was no doubt doubled over in pain. We’ve all seen such people in our communities who are hunched over, twisted and can barely move from place to place. People with severe arthritis and other progressive, disabling diseases. In Jesus time, they had no way of knowing the cause of such a thing, so they assumed that whoever had such diseases must be under God’s curse for one reason or another.

Thus, such a person was seen as being possessed by evil spirits, which are the antithesis of God. What’s more, they were labeled and outcasted as such. In other words, this woman was shunned because she was being defined by her crippling illness. Society around her could not see beyond her illness to the person underneath. All they saw and focused on was the illness. Not so with Jesus, who saw the person whom the illness was afflicting. He saw her for what she was, a daughter of Abraham, one of God’s people. She didn’t even ask him to heal her; rather, he had compassion on her and called out to her and told her that she was healed.

On the flip-side, there was the leader of the synagogue who was indignant at the fact that Jesus healed this woman on the sabbath. He was so focused with the rules, regulations, and laws that he was ignoring the needy people right in front of him. He even began to scold the people coming for help, “’There are six days of the week for working,’ he said to the crowd. ‘Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath’” (Luke 13:14, NLT).

Jesus scolded this man and called him and the other leaders hypocrites because these same men would untie their oxen and donkeys and lead them to the water so they can drink on the Sabbath, but they won’t do so for other human beings who are also made in the image of God and should be treated with compassion, justice, mercy, dignity and respect.

Friends, both of the people are people of God. The religious leader and the the woman disabled from a crippling disease. As such, we can learn from Jesus response to both of them. First, we are not defined by our sins, our diseases, or anything else that we have been afflicted and labeled by; rather, we are defined by Jesus Christ who loves us and has bought us our right to be called Children of God through this suffering, death and resurrection.

Second, people matter to God and, therefore, people ought to matter to us as well. We should never put shun people just because they’re presence is inconvenient or because we see them through the lens of the labels we attribute to them. Today’s challenge is for us to stop labeling others, including ourselves, and to stop allowing our circumstances, diseases, and/or other people from labeling us. The only label we have that is accurate is “child of God.” Christ loves us and calls us to accept that love and to share it with others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My feeling is that labels are for canned food… I am what I am – and I know what I am.” – Michael Stipe

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see past the labels into who people actually are. Amen.

God’s People, part 185: Paralytic

Read Matthew 9:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’”  (John 5:8, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

disabled-signPart 185, Paralytic. Accessibility has always been an issue for folks who have been traditionally seen as “disabled”. In fact, it still is an issue as not every place is accommodating of different needs. Still, overall, accessibility has come a long way and more places than not are taking into consideration the needs of others. In fact, the word disabled is even up for discussion as some people feel that is a denigrating label that devalues those with differing abilities.

For instance, while one might not be able to walk, that disability does not, nor should it, define the whole person and/or what they are or aren’t capable of. In fact, we all have “disabilities” one sense or another. For instance, I can sing. That is an ability I have. Others, however, are tone deaf and couldn’t even accidentally stumble onto a right note. That would be a “disability” for them; however, tone deaf people are not labeled and stigmatized by the term “disabled”. Yet, an opera singer who is paralyzed would be labeled “disabled”, which defines them by their disability, rather than their ability.

With all of that said, the fact that we’re even discussing the “labels” that folks in need of ability accommodations shows that we’ve come a long way from where people were in Jesus’ day. That just wasn’t a topic of discussion, nor was it in the social consciousness of people. Especially in Judaism, being born paralyzed or crippled was often seen as a result of sin.

We can see this is the case in the account of Jesus healing the man born blind. “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins’” (John 9:2, NLT)? In that very question, we see the mindset of the people in Jesus’ day and age. The disciples assumed that someone who was born blind must have been paying the price of sin. Otherwise, why would God allow for that.

Jesus’ response was pastorally corrective. People are not paralyzed, blind, deaf mute, etc. because of their sin or the sin of their parents. God was not behind the man being born blind, he just was. God is not behind paralysis, or the loss of hearing, or any other “disability”; rather, those things happen because we live in a world that is broken and fallen. That brokenness is the result of sin broadly speaking; however, Jesus is clear that someone who is differently abled should not have their “disabilities” held over their heads in judgment.

In fact, the appropriate response to any person, regardless of ability, is to approach with dignity as children of the Most High God. To do otherwise is counter to God’s law and the teachings of Christ. The disciples were looking to find reasons to avoid the blind man and if they knew his sin, that would give them justification for their biases. Yet, Jesus raises their understanding to see the bigger picture: the child of God in front of them and God’s work within that person bringing about the glory of God!

We, as humans, too often fall into the trap of labeling people and judging them based off of the labels we assign them. We do this racially, we do this in terms of age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and a whole host of different categories we label people by. What’s more, as hypocrites, we do not like it when people label us. I don’t like it when someone labels me a “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male”, but in what ways do I label others?

The challenge for us is to become more aware of how we refer to and treat other people. Are we aware of who they are as human beings, attentive to their needs, and respectful of their humanity and the divine image they’re created in? Or do we assign labels to them and objectify them in ways that take away their dignity and diminish (if not eliminate) their humanity. It is clear, which way is the Christian approach, and which way is not. Let us follow Christ and treat people with dignity regardless of differences.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognized as the person that they are and not a stereotype or an image.” – Loretta Lynch

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid labeling others and help me to treat everyone with dignity, respect and love. Amen.

Unlabeled

Read James 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NLT)

fetusinwombIt seems like labels make the world go around, right? We label everything, do we not? Labels seemed to get attached to just about everything that exists in our society and in our world. Of course, we label objects so that we can distinguish them from other objects. We label food so that we can tell what is in the food before we purchase and consume it. These types of labels are good and useful.

Unfortunately, our labeling doesn’t stop there. We also label people as well. I know this all too well as someone who has been labeled more times that I can probably remember. What I am about to share may be uncomfortable for some who read it; however, if so you are not alone, because they were more than uncomfortable for me. Throughout my life, I have been labeled in ways that were very hurtful and scarring.

For instance, I have been labeled a “fag”, a “homo”, a “queer”, and a “queerbate”. I have also been labeled “slowpoke”, “turtle”, “unteachable”, “spaced out”, “retarded”, “aloof”, “dunce”, and “dumb.” Beyond those labels, I have been labeled “ugly”, “fat,” “freak,” “extreme”, “odd ball”, “loser”, “unfit”, “weakling”, “Satanic” (I still laugh at that one), “false prophet”, “unchristian”, “naïve”, and a whole host of other things. This is totally NOT an exhaustive list.

I list these not to evoke a pity party, I have survived all of the labels that have come my way and, thankfully, have grown to be a stronger person as a result of them; however, that is not to say that they did not leave their mark. They did. Since I first started being labeled as child in school, I have had to struggle with a lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, poor body image (yes, guys can have this too), depression and even, at times, misanthropy.

What’s more, they didn’t just leave their mark on me in those ways. As is often the case, I sometimes turned to labeling others and treating others the way I was treated. I make no excuses for that. It is not uncommon for victims to become the victimizer, and I occasionally did. I didn’t do that often, because it is NOT fundamentally who I am; however, when I did participate in that in order to be accepted or to lash out, I was wrong.

One of the current ways that we are labeling others can be seen in the immigration and refugee situation going in in the United States. We label people as “threats”, as “illegals”, as “aliens”, as “criminals”, as “job thieves”, as “potential terrorists”, as “gangbangers”, as “them”, as “they”, and a whole host of other labels. These labels are established to distinguish “us” against “them”. They are established to rank one as more “superior” and/or “deserving” than the other.

Yet, time and time again God has called us to become unlabeled. God has pleaded with us, commanded us even, to stop labeling ourselves and others. Human beings are not illegal, they are not alien, they are not dumb, they are not queer, they are not oddballs, they are not ugly, they are not unteachable, and they most certainly aren’t less worthy than anyone else is. Rather, human beings are God’s creation and are created in the very image of God. To denigrate another human is to denigrate the One who created God. The challenge for us is to begin to remember how we’ve been labeled and how that felt when we went through it. If we remember that, we will be more likely to begin to break the chains of the labeling we find ourselves doing. It’s time to become unlabeled.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I try to look for the good in everybody, regardless of the way they’re labeled.” – Richard Thompson

PRAYER
Lord, help me to shake the labels I have been given, as well as to stop participating in labeling others. Help me to see your divine image in all people. Amen.