Have you ever heard of “per capita taxes”? I worked in a denomination that collected its money by assessing a head (capita) tax among its churches. You were to send in a certain amount based on the number of members you had. At the same time, this denomination measured the success of its pastors by how many new members they added to the rolls. So the churches were torn. Should they look good by adding new members liberally, even if it means they have to send in more money? Or should they save money by not adding people to membership quickly and easily?
We used to say that churches like that were only interested in “buildings, bodies, and bucks.” I remember one legalistic organization being critiqued as focusing only on “bread, beards, and babies.” If all you think of when you see people is numbers or standards, you are missing the point of the gospel and betraying the heart of the Lord.
Last week I wrote that legalism rejects the person. The person is a project goal or a measurement tool or a means to an end, but not a person. I lament the change in the American church that has welcomed the CEO or the entertainer approaches to ministry leadership instead of simple pastoring. There was a time when pastors walked with people and cared for them, lifted them up when they were discouraged and prayed for them when they needed help. For many people, those days are gone. If you can actually talk to your pastor, he often doesn’t have the time to care.
But when you look at the ministry of Jesus, you can’t miss His compassion for the individual. You might not think He was always gentle, but He actually saw the person and cared. He took the time to talk with the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, the children of the village. He cared about the prostitute and the tax collector, the fisherman and the Pharisee. He saw people as individuals, with their pain and problems and hearts. And He loved them.
The legalist sees people as obstacles or opportunities. He carries his pocket tracts to share the gospel so he can come home to brag at church about his evangelism. He points them out to his children as examples of how below standard values and actions can damage a life. He preaches to them with broad strokes of condemnation and shame so they will conform to his ideals. But he never sees them as people.
Jesus did. And I believe He wants us to begin to see people with His eyes. He was able to confront their sin and still show them His love. He hated their sin only because it hurt them, not because it offended Him. What pain was there in the prostitute’s heart? What loneliness did the woman at the well experience? What rejection did Zacchaeus feel as he collected taxes for the Romans from his own people? Jesus knew—because He cared enough to know.
You might be surprised at the stories of the people you see each day. This is a tough world and we brush against each other in our hurry. But, once in a while, stop and see the store clerk or the computer repairman as a person. Don’t try to judge their feelings or determine how their life could be different. Just know that they have hearts and they feel. They hurt and struggle and worry, just like you. And maybe, just maybe, you will have a chance to tell them of Someone who cares—and they will believe you because you care.