Until several years ago, I had never experienced personally what it was like to be “marginalized”. What do I mean by marginalized? To be seen as unimportant or insignificant…to be unheard and without a voice…confined to the outer margins of society…or even forced to a lower place…to be looked down upon…shunned.
Who were the marginalized of Jewish society when Jesus Christ walked the earth 2,000 years ago? Those with leprosy, and other incurable diseases. Women. Samaritans. Jews in the service of Rome. Heathen (Gentiles).
Lepers were avoided. Samaritans were shunned. Jews in the service of Rome were despised. Women lacked basic rights. Indeed, Jewish men would say a prayer in the synagogue that included thanking God that they were not born female or Gentile or a slave.
Yet, these marginalized groups were the exact people that Jesus Christ reached out to. The marginalized were drawn to Jesus!
Jesus went out of his way to go through Samaria and spoke with a Samaritan woman…someone with 2 strikes against her…she was female and a Samaritan! Jews did not associate with Samaritans. (Actually, this woman had a third strike against her – she was sexually promiscuous.) Both the woman herself (John 4:9) and the disciples (John 4:27) were shocked by this interaction. In another instance – in the famous parable told by Jesus, it was the Samaritan who was “good” – again, quite a counter-cultural shock.
Jesus called Matthew to be one His disciples. Matthew was a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government. Because he collaborated with the Romans, Matthew (and other tax collectors) were despised and even thought of as traitors by other Jews. In Luke 19, we see Jesus reach out to another Jewish tax collector – Zacchaeus – even going to his home.
Jesus approached, interacted with, and healed those with incurable diseases and disabilities. There were no government assistance programs back then (nor modern medical care), and these people had no option but to beg. The Jews often thought that disability was due to sin in the disabled person’s life or family history. Again, Jesus challenged this tradition! See John 9:2-3. The disciples wondered whether a blind man or his parents were guilty of sin, and Jesus responded that “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…” and then healed the man.
Jesus touched and healed those with leprosy. A leper was considered “unclean” by the Jews, and forced to live outside the town separate from other people. No one came near a leper. Yet, Jesus not only came near lepers but TOUCHED them (Mark 1:41). Imagine being touched by Jesus!
The marginalization that I have experienced the last several years was quite mild in comparison to the above examples! I really have nothing to complain about. Yet, it has helped me relate to the marginalized in society today. For the first time ever, I am able to understand where certain marginalized segments of our society are coming from. My eyes were opened, and I have a compassion that I lacked in the past.
It is a terrible thing to be marginalized. To feel powerless, ignored, insignificant, without hope…alone. Who are the marginalized of our day? Like Jesus’ day, people can be marginalized for a wide variety of different reasons.
- I stumbled upon a blog by a Wendy McCaig. This post: “Healing the Wounds of the Bible Belt” will give you an idea of her past, and present ministry. She has even written a book entitled: “From the Sanctuary to the Streets”. Wendy has a heart for the “least of these” – people such as the homeless, poor, incarcerated, and addicted. She is drawn to those who feel unwelcome and judged by the church…people shut out, judged, and cast off.
- Although the disabled of our modern day have more assistance and medical care, they are often marginalized. They are frequently stereotyped, and treated in a condescending manner. Do you have disabled people at your church? If not, they don’t feel welcome. They are not being reached out to. You are likely familiar with Joni Eareckson Tada. Her Joni and Friends ministry has a church relations department that equips, trains, and mobilizes the church to reach out and embrace people affected by disability.
Although some of the following examples may be more minor (compared to the above examples), an awful lot of marginalization goes on within the Body of Christ (the church). Like what?
Some Many evangelicals seem to think that Christian = Republican. “How could a Christian be anything but a Republican?” Christians with different views are shunned, and more sadly, unbelievers are sometimes turned off of Christianity because of political connotations.
Those outside the “sociological norm” can experience marginalization. People are generally married by a certain age, have kids by a certain age, etc. Try being outside of this norm, and you will experience marginalization…especially in certain segments of evangelicalism and in more conservative areas of the USA. I heard a local influential Pastor state that people not married by a certain age were guilty of “sinful independence” and married couples without children were “fearful and selfish.” My friends, people can find themselves outside of the sociological norm for a variety of reasons, and through no fault of their own. Some of the judgments and false assumptions that are made are truly sad...and alienate people from the church.
Many other examples of modern day marginalization could certainly be given…racial, sexual orientation, etc. Let us imitate our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and reach out in love to the marginalized. This means we may have to step outside our comfort zones and risk criticism from others – just as Jesus did…
We all need to pray that the Lord might give us a heart for the marginalized, and eyes to see them. Whether that is the homeless, the disabled, recovering drug addicts, or just that lonely person at church (or in the community) who doesn’t quite “fit in” because of their life status or offbeat views.
Christian unity does not mean uniformity. There is room for variety in the Body of Christ. I see different types of people in the Scriptures and in church history…not “cookie cutter” Christians. Some people will never fit the labels or strict “roles” that certain groups/people like to impose. It saddens me that so many segments of society feel marginalized/rejected by the church because they aren’t “cookies.”
Christians are supposed to be known by their love, and too often we are known…by our hate, by how we shun, by how we are quick to judge.
This does not mean we throw standards out the window. But we need to meet people where they are…like Jesus did.
Read John chapter 4. Jesus did not have to go through Samaria, yet He did. He did not have to initiate conversation with a questionable woman, yet He did. This woman was so touched by how Jesus treated her that she ran and told her whole village about Christ, and they came to see Jesus too. A little love and grace can go a long way.