One reason we can tend to be enamored with rules and principles is likely because they are easier to understand than people. You can, for the most part, trust a rule or a law to be what it says it is. Stalwart principles and plainly stated ideas of “good” and “bad” make us feel secure, we don’t believe that they’re going to suddenly change on us, or that they’re going to come to realize something new and shift their position. They are static, seemingly trustworthy and, as a consequence, altogether inhuman.
Humans are different than laws and precepts. People shift and squirm, moving and changing over the course of their lives. Often, people are untrustworthy, unreliable and unpredictable. It has crossed my mind that our culture’s obsession with artificial intelligence could be driven, in part, by our desire to experience the joy of relationship while also retaining the kind of stability that is found in changeless programming. Because, even though she’s not the greatest conversationalist, at least we know that Siri will never lie to us.
Through all of this we, as Christians, can begin look at people with a kind of predjudice, favoring the consistency of rules and laws to the fluid reality of humanity. After all, we are the people who claim to serve and love the God who passed down the Ten Commandments and the book of Leviticus; by themselves these boast more rules than we can fathom keeping on a day-to-day basis. But, despite what we might think, Jesus reveals to us that God doesn’t elevate principles and precepts above women and men. In one of the many parables in Matthew 13, Jesus presents a view of God that stubbornly refuses to harm the good of the field in order to purge the bad.
In His parable about the weeds and wheat, Jesus sets up a story of covert evil and the tension that it creates for righteousness. The story is about a farmer who sows seed, good seed, in his field only to find that after this initial sowing, a rival has come and dropped bad seed, weeds, in the field. This results in the co-mingling of good, healthy plants and bad, resource-sucking plants in the farmer’s fields. The farmer’s employees ask he wants them to pull up the weeds, to which he curiously replies, “no.” He explains,
“No, lest in gather the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until harvest time.”
Jesus’ parable does not offer us a picture of God as one who doesn’t care at all about good and bad. But, alarmingly for some, it does paint a picture of a God who cares more about people than principles. Again, I did not say that He didn’t care about principles, only that He cares more about people. People who, as I said earlier, are unpredictable and apt to change and prone to fail and do ridiculous things. God chooses us, the most rarely dependable species on the planet, to love and care for uniquely. Graciously He chooses us, not physics or mathematics or steadfast concerns of jurisprudence, to be the recipients of his direct attention and compassion. And while God certainly cares about right and wrong, the end of this parable is undeniably clear, He does not seek to mete out justice if it means innocent people could potentially be hurt, or infringed upon.
What would it look like if we viewed the world the same way? What would it look life if we saw people as the most important things that cross our paths today, tomorrow and everyday? What if the ideas of wrong and right, though extremely important, were not the first things that we pledged our allegiance but instead sought to live lives of mercy, grace and love and let everything else fall in line under that.
I suggest this way not because it’s easy or because I’m wishy-washy, and I certainly don’t because I’m worried about offending people by telling them they’re wrong or being convinced of what is actually sin. No, I suggest this way because this seems to be the method that Jesus employed while He was here on earth. The outcasts, the ceremonially unclean, the openly sinful, the convicted, the condemned, the demon possessed, and even the dead – none of these were merely conditions or declarations to Jesus, they were more than just issues or consequences. These were people. Humans with souls and hopes and dreams and guilt and shame and desires. They were real. They weren’t little widgets in the machine of the world, they were spirit-beings, wrapped in nerve-endings and muscles and flesh. They weren’t just members of a voting bloc movement, they were expressions of grace that had been created and cared for by none other than the Master Creator.
When we first apply our objective perspectives to people we encounter we, in a dangerous way, make them to be something less than human. The first thing we should think about someone, anyone, is that they are a created being who is loved by God and for whom Jesus died on the cross. If we see people that way before we apply the tags and labels we typically attach to them (adulterer, lazy, annoying, ungrateful, addict, drunk, bad influence, etc…), we just might find that we don’t see them the same way. Suddenly our greatest hope might not be that they get what they deserve, or what they have coming to them, but that they get what we’ve been fortunate enough to get: the merciful love and transforming presence of God in intimacy and grace.