Mending the Net

The government’s social “safety net” is looking more and more tattered and torn. Budget cuts and departmental closures make life more tenuous for thousands of needy people.

This is a problem, but also an opportunity. The church has always sought to provide for and protect the poor and powerless. Daily, Christians have the opportunity to “mend the net” — the social "safety net" — through acts of kindness.

What should the church’s response be to the poor, marginalized, and abused? How did Jesus treat the poor and powerless?

Winter 2017 - Mending the NetLooking at chapter one of the book of Mark, one could characterize Jesus’ overall ministry with one word: compassion. Christians are called to make a compassionate and caring difference in their community. In Mark 1:29-45 we watch Jesus care, pray, and touch one person at a time, making a profound difference in their lives.

Compassion Cares for the Needy (Mark 1:29-34)

Too often we suffer from “compassion fatigue syndrome” because we look at the immense needs of the masses rather than the individual. We don’t bother bettering our community, doubting it would ever make a dent in the problem.

If you wonder what a typical day in the life of Jesus looked like, Mark chapter one gives a glimpse. Healings, exorcising demons, teaching, praying, and traveling — all very exhausting. Caring for the needy can sap our energy quickly. We can become desensitized to the needs around us. Do what Jesus did: He sought to care for the needs of the individual, not just the masses. We can all care for an individual; their needs are not too great, nor our resources too few.

On an exhausting day, Jesus showed exceptional sympathy and compassion by meeting individual needs, one person at a time.

Compassion Prays for the Lost (Mark 1: 35-39)

Jesus’ fame grew as He healed the sick and exorcised demons. In Mark 1:35 we see Jesus flee His own popularity and the complications it brought to spend time alone with the Father. He pours out His heart, praying for the souls of men and women.

Jesus attached tremendous importance to prayer. Before every significant event in His life we find Jesus in prayer. Before the calling of the twelve disciples (Luke 6:12), before the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:41), before raising Lazarus (John 11:41), and before the crucifixion (Luke 23:34), to name but a few.

Jesus begins the first of three evangelistic campaigns in the Galilean region by praying. In His prayer He recognizes that He must leave the miracle-seeking multitudes to visit other places where His preaching could continue uninterrupted. While Mark 1:39 indicates He continues to perform miracles in other Galilean towns, Luke emphasizes that Jesus prayed and “preached the good news of the Kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).

The miracles confirmed the message, but they were only secondary to Jesus’ primary task of sharing the Good News. While Capernaum remained Jesus’ center of operations (vv. 38-39), Jesus intimates He went to other towns because the Capernaum crowd desired the thrill of miracles and for their physical needs to be met, but Jesus’ greater desire was to meet people’s spiritual needs.

We too need to be careful of this balance. We need to pray for needs and act with compassion, but not at the expense of praying for people’s spiritual needs, only rarely sharing the Gospel. Jesus asks us to be His hands and feet to the spiritually lost who need to hear His offer of salvation.

Compassion Touches the Powerless (Mark 1:40-45)

In Mark 1:40-45 we witness one of those occasions when Jesus exercises His compassion. The healing of a man with leprosy — a loathsome disease, believed by first-century Jews to be punishment from God for sin in the victim’s life. The disease begins with little specks on the eyelids, spreads across the surface of the body, and eventually eats through inner tissue and vital organs. Death becomes a welcome deliverance for a leper.

Rabbis taught people not to be within two meters of a leper, and yet Jesus touched the diseased man. We read in Mark 1:41, “Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him”. His compassionate actions were in utter contrast to the conventional teaching and social norms of His day.

Jesus saw an individual; He was moved. He was sympathetic and His empathy forced Him to action. The sorrow of people became His sorrow. Jesus touched someone society deemed untouchable, and He calls us to do the same.

Who are the untouchables — the powerless, marginalized, the abused — of our society? The church cannot remain indifferent, paralyzed, or insensitive toward action.

Notice the leper’s plea, saying in verse 40: “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean”. He knew Jesus had the power and resources to meet his need, but he was not sure Jesus was willing.

Our will is more often the problem than our power or resources in meeting the need of the poor and powerless. Jesus’ response was immediate and direct in saying, “I am willing, be healed” (vs. 41).

Enjoy this edition of THRIVE, entitled “Justice: To the Least of These” and be inspired by stories of Christians acting justly, showing mercy, and walking humbly (Micah 6:8) in a hurting and needy world.