-by Ryan Thurman
Artist Fritz Eichenberg created this piece in 1951, believing the fact that Jesus walked with the "least of these", those most of society thought were outcasts, worthless. As the title clearly points out, in Jesus in the Breadline, Eichenberg portrays Jesus as a homeless man, and when you think about it, if Jesus came during the era of breadlines, He probably would have been standing in one.
On Sunday I was on my hands and knees in manure and dirt trying to get my front yard ready to plant Spring flowers and vegetables. Noleen was out of town all weekend and I was feeling a little burnt and lacking patience with my kids as they were energetically trying to help but not doing it the way I wanted them to. At the height of my frustration Ray walked by, he is a friend who has been homeless for many years. I hadn't seen him in a few months and instead of jumping up and embracing him with a hug I gave him forced cordial greeting and after a few distracted pleasantries I invited him to stay and have a drink with me. He kindly declined, as I have had time to reflect on this exchange, I am sure that he knew that my outward offers of hospitality were not genuine, because my heart lacked true space for him to enter into, as I was focused on the task at hand and on my own shallow suffering. I missed Jesus in that moment.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. -Matthew 9:36
Most men lead lives of quite desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. -Henry David Thoreau
When I look around it appears that our society is falling apart at the seams, so many people are harassed and helpless in need of a guide in these troubling times. Jesus was moved by compassion when he saw this in his time and we who follow Jesus are to be likewise moved in this same way. Henri Nouwen defines compassion this way: Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. The crowds around us do not need our pity nor do they want to become our project they need the love of God expressed through us going to them and entering into their lives. We cannot settle for simply inviting them to church or some other christian event because for most there are way too many barriers. We have to go to them and love them as God loves them without condition and without strings attached. The world is waiting for safe, strong and selfless guides to rise up and point them to Jesus who alone can reconcile them to God and to their fellow man. Ours is an age hungry for the healing of broken relationships. But do we see the suffering around us or are we too distracted? And if we do see do we the the heart to feel? “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the suffering" Although I missed experiencing Jesus in my friend Ray on Sunday, this does not define me. I accept that I am in process and always in need of God's grace and mercy. So today I will drink deeply from the living water that can refresh and revive my heart and pray that God will set my heart free from lesser things so that it may be set aflame with love for Him and my fellow man.
God of every human being, in a world where we are bewildered
by the incomprehensible suffering of the innocent,
how can we be witnesses to the Gospel?
Enable us to manifest the compassion of Christ
by the lives that we live.
-Brother Roger (founder of Taize)