Many things shape our perceptions of reality. Our fears sometimes limit the conclusions we draw, and our blind spots can limit our vision. Painful memories or regrets that come into the present limit our ability to let the past be the past.
Jesus models an all-embracing framework of grace, forgiveness and love. The people around Jesus are labelled. One is a tax-collector, another a leper, some have questionable reputations and many are discriminated against because of their racial identity and background. Jesus takes us beyond all these labels and into the reality of who a person is and what they can be. The labelled people are set free in the grace of Jesus to new lives, and their labels are left behind – the ‘blind’ man loses the label in being healed.
We are seeing a return to labels. People from particular countries are labelled as being responsible for the pandemic. Others are marginalised due to the colour of their skin, or the different ways their culture is expressed. The stranger is a threat and some have, understandably, become fearful of mixing with others. Anxiety has increased.
I have been reflecting on this after being asked ‘a question by a lawyer’; “What does the Church say in all of this?” He said the government is saying what the churches should say – we are in this together, be kind to each other and think of your neighbours!
Yes, these are good and important humanitarian sentiments. Consistent with what we say and seek to do. The Church can say more.
Jesus calls us to go further and say, “People are not labels, they are our sisters and brothers – all are people for whom Christ died.” We can also say, “People are not their past – they are forgiven and healed.” We can say, “All people irrespective of skin colour and culture are created in God’s image.” We can keep using a language of grace, inclusion, justice and forgiveness – the language of the gospel, and a rich message of hope in uncertain times.
John Gilmore, Executive Officer