I want to challenge you to do something today – or, rather, to stop doing something, as the case may be. I want you, me, us to stop throwing people away. Just stop. Don’t do it anymore. Take that proverbial garbage bin we carry around in our psyches, and toss it in the recycling bin. When we look around at those around us – at our friends, our colleagues, our coworker, our peers, our waiters and waitresses, our telemarketers – we need to stop seeing something that’s disposable and worthless and instead see something to be treasured and preserved.
I guess something needs to be cleared up first, though. What do I mean by “throwing people away?” It’s simple. Someone says, or does, or condones, or writes something we don’t like, and that’s it. Suddenly, that person is trash. They are anathema. It may be something they said in a planning meeting; it may be a comment they made in Bible class; it may be a political view they have; it may just be that they had the audacity to disagree and hurt our feelings. Whatever it is, we hold onto that event like a precious treasure, and we then cut that person out of our lives.
We effectively throw people away for the various petty reasons we have, and it has to stop. People see these behaviors among us, and they don’t see a people of peace. They don’t see a nation of priests. No, they see Pharisees. They see fools. They see a people of hate and resentment, and who would want anything to do with that? What do we do to ourselves? When we start throwing people away, we start throwing away the divine. We remove the Prince of Peace and Mercy from our lives and instead enthrone an idol of bitterness and hatred – an idol that is much harder to serve than our Lord of forgiveness.
Disposable Individuals of the New Testament
There are a few people in the New Testament about whom I have to wonder: if they did these things to any of us, would we toss them aside?
John Mark. In Acts 13:13, we see John Mark abandon during the first of Paul’s missionary journeys. We aren’t really given a reason, but we can see Paul is still upset about it in Acts 15:37-39, even to the point of parting ways with Barnabas. That could have been the end of the story. We could look at that and feel justified in our eternal feuds, but that’s not the end. Some time later, in II Timothy 4:11, Paul calls this same deserter “useful to me for ministry.” We might have disposed of John Mark as “weak,” as “spineless,” or as “useless,” but Paul found the time to restore their relationship and gained an encourager in Christ.
Peter. We could look at a few events in Peter’s life where you or I might have given up on him, but my mind returns time and again to Jesus’ conversation with him after those terrible denials. We know the story of Mark 14:66-72, how Peter denies Christ time and again in the temple courtyard, even to the point of cursing and swearing. When Jesus restores Peter, in John 21:15-19, Jesus doesn’t demand an apology. He doesn’t wait for Peter to make the first move. He simply reaches out to one that we might have considered a backstabber and heals their relationship and Peter’s faith.
Onesimus. Onesimus, in the book of Philemon, is one we might not even realize we would dismiss, but consider this: Onesimus was an “illegal.” He was on the run from his master; he was not a true Roman citizen; he was a law-breaker; he deserved imprisonment and perhaps worse. In verses 8-16, Paul reveals to Philemon that Onesimus is now a brother in Christ and encourages him to treat the slave accordingly. Here’s what he didn’t do: he didn’t send Onesimus packing. Paul didn’t write Onesimus off because of his secular citizenship. He was more concerned with the slave’s spiritual citizenship. Where we might have turned Onesimus over to the first Roman guard we saw, Paul, instead, turned him to the love of Christ.
Whether we’re talking about wanting to throw someone aside because of their history, or if we’re wiling to toss them aside because of some way we feel they affronted us, that’s not the conduct we see reflected in the lives of Christ and His apostles. My friend Derek once told me that we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others only by the consequences of their actions. Let’s think about showing others the same amount of mercy we show ourselves.
Setting Down the Weight
The problem is, when we look at people, sometimes we have a great deal of access baggage we are carrying around that we blame on them. We call these grudges. And these grudges needlessly weigh us down. There’s an old Zen proverb that illustrates this burden:
One day two traveling monks reached a town and saw a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. There were deep, muddy puddles and she couldn’t step across without getting mud on her silk robes. She impatiently scolded her attendants, who were burdened with heavy packages.
The younger monk walked by the young woman without speaking. But the older monk stopped and picked her up on his back, carrying her across the mud. Not only did she not thank the monk, she shoved him out of her way when he put her down and scurried by him haughtily.
As the two monks continued on their way, the younger monk was brooding. After a long time, he finally spoke out. “That woman was so rude but you picked her up and carried her! She didn’t even thank you.”
“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk responded. “Why are you still carrying her?”
That’s what it comes down to, then, doesn’t it? We throw people away because we can’t unburden ourselves of the weight of our own grudges. We choose to bear the weight of our anger rather than the weight of friendship.
We put our strength and our efforts into holding onto our grudges rather than humbly letting them go. In Matthew 18:22, Jesus tells Peter (and later demonstrates) the innumerable times we must be willing to forgive. Colossians 3:12-14 calls on us to put on love, compassion, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. Finally, Hebrews 12:1-2 admonishes us to lay down those weights that slow down our run of faith. Jesus and His followers were able to lay aside the weight of grudges to pursue and share the hope within them. Why are we still carrying them?
Again, it comes down to what we see when we look at others. If we look at each other the way God looks at us, we won’t see each other as disposable commodities to be casually thrown away when suddenly inconvenient. Matthew 18:1-4 calls us to become as little children if we are to be of His kingdom. Romans 8:15-17 calls us adopted children of the Father, and I John 3:2 again says we are now God’s children, waiting to see Him in His glory.
If God sees us as His little children, we should see the same in each other. How easily do you stay angry at a small child? Against which children do you harbor long-lasting grudges? Are there any children you seek to cut out of your lives, that you give dirty looks to, that you assume the worst of the moment they enter the room? Of course you don’t because that would make you a pretty terrible person, don’t you agree? Wouldn’t you be a sad case if you couldn’t get over the fact that a five-year-old clumsily broke a vase in your home? What kind of person would you be to hold that over their head for the next several years, even if the break was the result of carelessness or malice? Yet, this is how we treat each other. Just like that younger monk, we can’t seem to lay aside the burden of our indignation, and we let those burdens weaken us. Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Galatians 5:13-15 warns us against biting and devouring one another. We have many euphemisms for this: we say we are “calling it like it is;” we may feel someone needs to be “put in their place” or “taught a lesson;” we may say that we are “saying what needs to be said;” but all we’re doing is consuming each other in fits of temper. We also consume one another when we bear grudges instead of bearing each other’s burdens. We devour relationships. We decide our personal feelings are more important than a person’s soul. This must not be. Once we see each other the way God sees us, we have no choice but to tear down our idols of bitterness, indignation, and self-justification. We have no reason to carry around the weight of grudges and resentment. Once we unburden ourselves of these, we will have the strength to carry one another’s loads and to bear each other up in love and mercy, and we will finally stop throwing people away.