Stomping on the Fragile!

I write this with a heavy heart...
a heart that often throbs....

Even though I totally love working with people who are homeless and poverty-stricken, there are a couple of things that often leave me languishing with a very heavy heart....

Even though hope and joy are not foreign concepts to me and they surround me everyday, there are a couple things that continually rear their ugly heads, leaving me stewing with a very heavy heart....

Despite my efforts to embrace all the goodness and beauty of what I'm privileged enough to do, these couple things constantly battle me and my ideals, trying desperately to dash all the hope, joy and love I cling to!....

So what are these couple of things?

The first thing is the daunting and daily reality that my homeless friends are dying! My life is surrounded by the actuality of death! The nature of my life in Chicago is constantly calling me to support and hold the hands of my homeless and poverty-stricken friends, as they suffer and die prematurely. Sadly, they often die without the help and assistance they deserve as human beings. My blog is saturated with stories and memorials about this, combined with our daily efforts of trying to bring comfort, support and assistance into all the chaos, grief and calamity that death's bitter reality brings.

But, it is my second point I want to concentrate on in this post: My heart is left extremely heavy, may I even say "throbbing", when I witness callous people "stomping on the fragile!" These are the very people I just alluded to in the above paragraph, the very ones who seem predestined to fade away prematurely. It is incredibly painful to watch the constant bullying that resonates in our neighborhood, our city, our nation and, of course, throughout the whole world! My emphasis here is not the cruel bullying that plagues schools and playgrounds, but rather, what weighs heavily upon my fragile heart is the callous and calculated abuse of power by those who have the influence, finances, status and strength to stomp on the fragile! By fragile; I'm talking about women, men and children who are unable and too weak to defend themselves, I'm talking about people with weakened immune systems due to the ongoing hardships of poverty and homelessness.....

...and sadly, I see this bullying and the consequences of this "stomping on the fragile" every single day. Yet, I also see it as one of my callings and missions to "stand up for" and "advocate for" those who are downtrodden, weak, poor and the "least of these". People who are powerless and fragile are in desperate need of loving, non-violent, courageous and committed people willing to rise up and rebel against these "powerful" and "power-hungry" thugs.

My goal in this post is to look at Jesus, who surrendered his almighty power, embraced weakness and lived his earthly life bringing forth a Loving Kingdom which opposed the power, violence and lusts of this world! He called and continues to call his disciples to be courageous, committed and crazy enough to follow his rather insane example, so....

How did he cope and deal with the fragile folks of his day?
How did he respond to the thugs who stomped on the fragile people who surrounded him?

I'm going to cover 4 overarching themes I see scattered throughout the Gospels;

Jesus never pursued any special recognition from the politicians, leaders, the wealthy elite or the religious gangsters who staunchly strutted their stuff in 1st Century Palestine or Jerusalem. No, by not seeking their approval, he showed them they were no more important than the masses and never bowed to their ego-boosting wishes. In fact, he seemed to intentionally ignore them. God's choice was that Jesus be born in a humble stable and surrounded by animals! He wasn't born into affluence, but homelessness! He never decided to boldly come into Jerusalem, riding on a white Mustang proclaiming his magnificent arrival to Herod and Caesar, instead he spent most of his time chilling in the countryside with poor folk, and those labelled as sinners. Let's face it, his complete lack of interest in moving up the social ladder and dining with celebrities, pissed the elitist snobs off immensely; as Jesus gained recognition, they wanted him, but they wanted him their way! Even when he was viciously tempted in the desert to gain all the earthly kingdoms for himself, Jesus resisted that urge, because he knew God's Kingdom rose from the "bottom on up", and not as they wanted it to go, from the "top on down"!

When Herod finally got to meet the Man he had adamantly desired to see and chat with, Jesus defiantly remained silent, immensely frustrating this powerful earthly king. Even though this meeting was just hours before the cruel unjustified crucifixion he was about to suffer, and even though his life quivered in the powerful hands of Herod, Jesus knew how God's Kingdom embraced the poor, meek and outsiders! Jesus knew how temporary the Israelite and Roman Empires were; these leaders may have been holding him captive and demanding a response, yet he knew God's eternal and all-powerful Kingdom could obliterate their feeble kingdoms with just a single utterance. Even though He surrendered His power and life into their hands, He also knew the Kingdom of God would eventually make everything right.

• Jesus didn't just ignore the elite, he used his imagination by telling many stories about the Kingdom of God to his disciples and the masses. These parables stirred up the crowds, rocked their worlds and challenged their mind sets. Meanwhile, the "guardians of public morality" seemed ever-present, staunchly standing in the back, judging his words and constantly listening. These parables challenged the status quo; rebelling against the very empires that had successfully elevated them and had given them their earthly power. The words Jesus confidently spoke reversed the flow of power, turning all the political, societal and religious structures upside down.

These stories spoke about their all-powerful God, who was demanding these uppity thugs completely and utterly change; He told his listeners to not aspire to be like Caesar, a self-righteous Pharisee or an armed thug demanding respect and honor, but rather he called us to be like children, or the poor woman who humbly and quietly put her measly mite into the offering box, the woman who washed his dirty feet with her hair and the tax gatherer who bowed, wept, prayed and begged for mercy. He called his disciples to live a life of Kingdom Love; a Love that embraces and forgives the rebellious run-away son, bandages and takes care of a bitter enemy and will search everywhere for that one lost sheep.

We must never forget that Jesus is the one who boldly proclaimed, to the anger of some, but the enjoyment of others: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort." (Luke 6:20, 24 NIV)

• Jesus may have ignored them and told imaginative stories about His Kingdom which caused blood to boil, but he also directly rebuked them with acts and words of defiance; Matthew 23 isn't some little gentle rebuke, but a long angry exposé about how hypocritical, blind, self-centered and egotistical these Pharisees and teachers of the law were. Jesus tells these hypocrites they must humble themselves and make radical changes to enter the Kingdom of God, because "those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Matthew 23:12 NIV)

Jesus stopped a mass of murderous self-righteous males from trying to execute an adulterous woman. He did this quietly and non-violently, pointing out their own hypocrisy and the injustice of an unequal, unjust and unfair system. The fragile one (the woman) stood before her accusers, while the one with status (the man) roamed free. These unequal, unjust and unfair inconsistencies are still ever-present today; we see it especially in the "War on Drugs"; two people can smoke the same blunt, yet end up suffering very different consequences. One goes to prison, while the other roams free! Just like in this woman's case, judgment is deemed more by one's status, race, gender and poverty, rather than by the offense committed. These judgmental men were as guilty as the lady they were about to murder with the rocks occupying their hands! Thankfully, this lady's life was saved that day, the actions of Jesus caused that crowd to bow their proud heads, drop their rocks and leave.

When Jesus saw the injustices in his Father's Temple, it angered him so much he aggressively overturned the tables and chased out the money-lenders. They'd made the "House of Prayer" into a "den of thieves"! He didn't "cleanse the temple" because of effective capitalism, but because this sacred building was supposed to be the realization and actualization of God's holiness, love, justice and acceptance, but these callous thugs had made it into a place where the fragile were getting stomped on. The Temple was the very thing that should have embodied all the loving compassionate ethics of the Kingdom of God, instead it was being used to serve the kingdoms of this world; kingdoms which exploit, bully and abuse the poor, weak and fragile. So once again, Jesus acted in defiance against the unfair, unequal and unjust practices that were corroding his Father's House; the very place that should of embraced all fairness, equality and justice!

• Finally, Jesus embraced the poor, downtrodden and outsiders by simply chilling with them. He healed them, spoke with them, partied with them and ate plenty of food with them! The powerful hated seeing this! They thought he hung around with the wrong cliques, thinking his actions were disgraceful, sinful and even demonic! Always! Even His disciples constantly questioned why he'd fellowship with the insignificant rejects of their day, like children, women, prostitutes and tax-collectors; telling him to shoo "such worthless people" away. Yet, this is how Jesus chose to spend most of his time and days.....

As the leaders raged about him not giving them "the time of day", he purposefully made time for the very folks they'd snubbed, ridiculed and ignored all their lives! The elite would come up to Jesus, trying to demand a miracle or "sign" and he'd often reject their requests, because of their egotistical motives and lack of faith. Yet, Jesus would continue chilling with the poor, indicating and making it radically clear that the empires based on money and power were worthless and temporal. When Jesus chilled with the fragile, onlookers witnessed many miraculous deeds happening at a quick pace throughout the poor Palestinian countryside!

All this hanging with the wrong cliques, enraged the proud onlookers; making them ask questions, "why them and not us?" They started judging him, finding loopholes to condemn him. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, I'm sure his condemners wouldn't have judged him if he'd healed "their" own. Jesus had turned their whole system upside down and this terrified the upper and ruling-class folk; Jesus was saying that the Kingdom of God isn't for proud, arrogant or elitist snobs, but for those who are humble, poor, weak and fragile. By simply chilling and talking with lepers, prostitutes and that unsightly Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus proclaimed loud and clear to all who lived in 1st century Jerusalem, "the Kingdom of God gives importance to those who "have-not", while the "haves" need to embrace "not-having" to be a part of God's Kingdom". Isn't this the very message Jesus encouraged the inquisitive rich young ruler to embrace that quiet night?, yet he couldn't depart from his riches, he couldn't separate himself from the empires that had captured him, money and power was far too important to this young man, so he ended up wandering away in misery. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus did exactly the opposite, he said "screw these earthly kingdoms, they're temporal and rigged by death", so he embraced the eternal Kingdom and gave his riches away and ended up living with a new found joy.

The Kingdom of God Jesus lived, is summed up with this phrase that he boldly proclaimed; "the first shall be last, and the last first!"

Today, as I gaze upon this world, I believe the empires have got stronger and the fragile are still being viciously stomped on by callous thugs. Jesus continues to oppose those empires based on power and violence, and His Kingdom stands in stark contrast to all of them. The Kingdom of God hasn't changed; it still lifts up and blesses the fragile and poor, while opposing the proud, and we need to bring that Kingdom Love, that Revolutionary Love into our environments. When we do this, these "empires of death and destruction", along with their leaders, often quiver at Love's sight! Instead of submitting to Love's way, the Kingdom's Way, they resort to the only way they know; the calculated abuse of power, manipulation, violence and stomping on the fragile!

.... and that's how Jesus ended on the Cross! It's no different today. When the empires of money and power are challenged by Love, the power-mongers will stop at nothing until they see another "crucifixion"...

Despite the obvious dangers in trying to stop people "stomping on the fragile", it is our calling as disciples of Jesus. This stomping isn't only happening in Uptown or war torn nations, it's happening in all our neighborhoods, and we need to raise our revolutionary fists and cry "enough". We need to follow Jesus by doing what Jesus did! Our focus shouldn't be ON our leaders and there will be times when we need to purposely ignore them. We also need to use our creative minds and talents to tell imaginative stories of the Kingdom which elevates the humble and opposes the proud. There will also be times of protest and revolt, when we'll need to speak harsh words, overturn tables or write in the sand in an effort to stop callous people being unjust, unequal and unfair to the fragile ones who surround us.

.... but in saying all that; I am convinced that the most important lesson of Jesus is that we simply "BE THERE" with the people, for the people, OR we can use the modern day word; we need to "OCCUPY" our neighborhoods with the grace and beauty of God's Kingdom. When we do this, our times of silence, imagination and revolt will flow out of us simply "being" and "occupying" our hoods.

So, how do we BE There? 
How do we Occupy?

We take risks, by showing the "have-nots", they are "haves" in Kingdom of God. We do this by loving the "least of these" and letting them know they are important and fearfully and wonderfully made. We occupy our neighborhoods by being courageous enough and not too ashamed to sit down and chat with a homeless woman, eat a meal with an extremely mentally ill man, give a new set of clothes to a felon, provide employment to a drug-dealing gang-banger or open our doors to a teenage transgender run-away.  

When we occupy our surroundings, when we live out His Kingdom, there's no doubt that hatred and stares will flow our way. When we occupy our neighborhoods, oppressors, stompers and the elite will see their empires of money and power being squashed, the fragile being elevated and Kingdom Love shining brightly out of the darkness. When we occupy our streets with the Kingdom Jesus brought to 1st century Palestine, all modern day efforts and attempts of oppression will be challenged.  

Through simply "being there" and chilling with the "least of these", 
through simply occupying the places we wander with Revolutionary Love, 
through praying that God would embrace the fragile ones among us, 
we begin living out the very words Jesus uttered in the Lord's Prayer: 
"Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...."
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