Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3: 19

This verse is a part of Zephaniah’s summation of his discussion of how God will deal justly with Israel by virtue of returning the nation and its people to their homeland and out of an oppressive captivity. Yet, I think that it also shows us a more fundamental aspect of God’s nature and the character that is His nature’s foundation. Although the Lord does care greatly about the lives of all people, He has an especially soft spot for those who are less able to take care of themselves. So, when I see the term lame, I think of people who are physically disadvantaged regardless of cause or reason for their condition, but I think that God actually has a larger group of people in His mind when He looks upon those who are lame. These are people who are easy prey or targets for oppressors. God’s view of lameness also includes emotional weakness, issues of mental capacity, and any other conditions of body, mind, or spirit that might cause a person to need extra care, provision, or understanding. Our Lord takes each and every one of these people under His wing of protection and holds them very close.

The Lord also seeks after a very wide circle of people who could be labeled as outcasts. These can be those among us who are difficult to be around, and they are often those who are simply different from whatever is normal or usual in our own cultural environment. This can include people who are from other countries, races, ethnicities, economic status, or any other conditions that might brand them as different from me and from my natural family and neighbors. God does not use the concept of outcast as a way of describing people. Rather, He sees all of us as His children, and He goes searching for those of us who are far away from Him in order to win us back to close proximity through love, grace, and understanding. The Lord would have each of us view all others in this same manner. We are to seek after those who are different from us, open up our hearts and our homes to them in a way that speaks Christ’s love through actions and by attitudes while giving praise to the One who saves with our words.

Although this verse contains a description of the way that God views people in our world, I believe that He desires for each of us who know Him to live in this same manner. He guides us into holding these same attitudes deeply and personally. Followers of Christ are to be people who seek after the outcast without regard for the cause of that condition or state of their being. In so seeking after them, we are to grant them shelter, to provide what they need to carry on with life, and we are to befriend them in a way that speaks acceptance and that remains true and faithful to those friendships into the unforeseen future. Christ leads us into loving the lame and into seeking to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in ways that speak Christ’s redemption and restoration in a manner that words are inadequate to express. There are many people in our world who live as exiles, who are lame or outcast; so, there are multitudes of people in our daily lives who need a friend, a protector, a listening ear. We all encounter these people and they are God’s blessed gifts to us, for they allow us to draw closer to Christ by trusting Him to care for and to lead us as we enter into their lives in Christ’s name.    

Whoever says he is in light but hates his brother is still in darkness.

James 2: 9

 

James is calling to everyone who knows Christ to examine our hearts and to listen to our own words in the process. This is serious business, for Jesus did not take the way that we treat each other lightly. He cared about and for all people without regard to the culturally determined divisions and without applying the usual tests of orthodoxy, safety, or comfortability. Jesus came into the world to love people in a manner that was exactly the same as that with which the Father loves us. This love is absolute, unconditional, and universal. It is poured out for all to accept and receive. It flows down from Christ’s cross of torture to cover the sinfulness of anyone who surrenders this life to Christ.

 

Yet, even as we exist in that state of forgiveness that brings about an unbreakable relationship with God, we are still imperfect with hearts and minds that are works in progress. Unfortunately we can do a great deal of harm to others while we are proclaiming that we know Christ while still living as if His life and its light of righteous truth were not in us. One of the places where this is most apparent is in the way that we engage with people who are different from us or who disagree with us. In simple terms, there is no room in God’s Kingdom for hate. We are not granted the right to judge others, and we do not hold the authority to determine who we should care about and for or where they should be allowed to dwell. Instead, Christ desires for His people to be open and to embrace the widely diverse appearances, cultures, and understandings of god that the people of this world bring to the dialogue of life.

 

To be clear, embracing and loving others does not mean compromise of faith; rather, it requires that we listen and seek to understand the story that our neighbor has to tell. It requires us to set aside fear and prejudice and to turn these natural responses over to Christ and submit them to Him in surrender to His cross. Although the act of faith that is expressed in loving others is undertaken in order to bring them into a relationship with Christ, it is also an important part of our own growth and transformation into Christ-like people. When we love people who make us uncomfortable or even ones who elicit fear within our hearts, we are trusting Christ to fulfill His promises to never leave us and to provide us with all that we need to follow Him in this world. When we speak fear and hatred, we deny Christ, and when we live out love, we proclaim Christ and His Kingdom of peace to our world.