By Rev. Louis Stoker
Mountain Lakes Presbyterian Church
A son asked his father, "How much does it cost to get married, Dad?" The father replied, "I don't know Son; I'm still paying for it."
Perhaps the pivotal aspect in Jesus' ministry was his affirmation of the importance of human contact and companionship. Old Testament Law required that a six foot distance be imposed between lepers and ordinary people; thus a leper was ostracized from the community both socially and religiously.
As Jesus viewed the destructive process of human isolation, he took an almost unheard-of risk; he made moves toward the unclean and dispossessed. From Lazarus to the ten, to the one, Jesus touched those whom religious authorities refused to touch.
The motif of Jesus reaching out to touch those who had been denied community ran throughout his life. The lepers were the low people on the religious totem pole. They came last in the pecking order of human responsiveness, and they had no home until Jesus gave them one.
Aside from the lepers, one other group existed outside the realm of ceremonial religion in the first century. This group, too, had no religious home. They were the shepherds. To be a shepherd in the first century was virtually synonymous with being unclean, for with their lifestyle they could not meticulously observe the dietary and ritualistic demands of religion. Ceremonial living was out of the question for them.
They were also the "cast-offs" ostracized by the religious community. The only thing worse than being a shepherd was being a leper.
What a shocking thunderclap hit the first century when the reports came of the birth of the Son of God. To the shepherds, those wandering, unclean nomads, those lonely, co-occupants with the lepers at the lowest rung in society's ladder, came the shocking words, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior.
From the beginning of his life, Christ's ministry was so consistentstrangers are to be brought into the fold. Meaningful companionshiphuman and divinegate-crashed the petty concerns, structures and loyalties of history. As strangers were met and enjoyed, their "strangeness" melted away through understanding and compassion.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had somewhat successful efforts to bring black and white strangers together in an era of stringent laws and observances. He envisioned a world in which humankind could live in togethernessblack and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu; it would be a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interest, learning how to live with each other in peace.
We are the recipients of Jesus' love and his ministry to enjoy and understand diversity, building respect and admirations into our faith. Our call is to conquer loneliness by inviting all strangers to be a part of us. He had much to say about loving enemies, visitations to the prisoners, and sharing our commodities with those who were "without."
A man was talking to his neighbor, and he said, "Im a walking economy." His neighbor said, "What do you mean by that?"
He replied, "Well, it's like this; my hair is in recession, my stomach is a victim of inflation, and the combination of these factors is putting me into a deep depression."
The whole world belongs together!