Human Refuse

Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet…”

Matthew 15:29-30

Stop right there. What do we picture? A great crowd has gathered, coming from the surrounding villages. To this hillside, where they have heard that Jesus has come, they carry their disabled friends, their children, their loved ones. Lovingly and tenderly they lay them at the feet of Jesus, begging for a miracle.

But look again. The Greek word rendered “put at his feet” is a form of the verb “rhipto.” “Rhipto” is not a nice word. “Rhipto” is not the word one uses when one brings an ailing relative to the healer, motivated by compassion and love. “Rhipto” is more commonly used for discarding refuse, as in, “Hey, it’s Monday night, don’t forget to rhipto the recyclables by the curb.”

Now the picture changes. These people are not bringing their beloved daughters and servants to Jesus. They are probably motivated by two factors: first, the lure of celebrity and spectacle – they rhipto these people at Jesus’ feet, not because they want to see them healed, but merely to see a miracle occur. Second, they are hoping to be rid of a nuisance. These beggars and panhandlers clog their streets. Some have been isolated into special homes and communities, away from the “normal” people. The villages are weary of this useless burden on their resources. They are hoping that maybe this Jesus fellow can solve their problem. So they rhipto them at his feet.

To the world, these people are human refuse, articles to be discarded after stumbling over them one too many times. Our society today does the same thing. We dehumanize classes of people. We wantonly discard the unborn in the pursuit of personal autonomy for the more powerful. We dismiss entire races or religions. We cast aside our aged, our infirm, anyone who cannot participate fully in the common life of the world.

But Jesus does not see them this way. The story concludes:

…and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking,the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd…”

Matthew 15:30-32

Out of this apparent pile of human refuse, Jesus raised up a congregation of worshipers. We do not know the subsequent history of these healed persons, but it is certainly conceivable that some of them became followers of Jesus after this stupendous miracle.

Far too often our ministry focus is on the salient one: the leader, the wealthy, the influential, the strong, popular extrovert. “If we could reach out to Tom,” goes a common youth-ministry conversation, “imagine what kind of an impact he would have for Jesus in this school! Captain of the football team, popular, handsome, well-respected. Lord, please convert Tom!”

While praying for the conversion of anyone is always good, the above represents a wrong attitude, one rooted in regarding persons according to the standards and values of the world:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.

2 Corinthians 5:16

We must break ourselves of this ingrained habit, this utilitarianism, this evaluating of persons from a worldly point of view. We must learn to see others exactly as Jesus sees them, whether they are rich or poor, influential or reserved, healthy or ill, well-connected or lonesome. Because God is interested in making things new, and using unlikely building materials, which brings worship to Him alone, and not to the one having natural attractiveness:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being [literally, ‘no flesh’] might boast in the presence of God.

1 Corinthians 1:27-29

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