Mary and Joseph searching for the boy Jesus
People are beginning to realize that ministry is relational. Better stated, you can’t have a ministry without a relationship. Relationships demand some understanding, empathy, sympathy and compassion, the last three words are synonyms for mercy. Understanding may be the most important.
I came across this little gem from Roland Bainton who was a biographer of Martin Luther. Bainton asks, “to whom among us would it ever have occured, as it did to Luther, that the virgin Mary, when the boy Jesus was lost, should have reproached herself with the thought that because of her negligence God had taken his Son back to heaven?” That is a great question. My answer would be anyone of us who understand the fallen human nature and all the anquish and self recrimination that results from that nature when something goes wrong. It occured to Luther because a thought like that occurs to sinful human beings in their time of the greatest trial and anquish.
My Father died all alone in the nursing home – if I would have been there he would still be here.
My parents are divorcing and this is God’s punishment for the times I dispbeyed.
My children are not Christian and it is because I am not a good enough example.
I lost my job because God is punishing me>
On and on it goes. It occured to Luther because Luther of all men (we can add Paul here as well to a very short list) knew the measure of his desire to achieve his own salvation and the depth of rage that he felt because he couldn’t. He knew the sheer wonder of God’s grace and he, more than anyone other than Paul, marveled that Grace was for him the chief of sinners. It occured to Luther because he understood that if you believe that “it” (whatever it is”) depends on you, responsible people that fail will believe that they are being punished. In distress at a loss of her Son Mary imagines a divine kidnapping. What sword must have pierced her soul when she lost him on the cross?
Ministry begins with understanding. Understanding means entering into suffering, not analysing it from some higher ground and making pronouncements. It means understanding because you are human and what “occurs” to other poor sinners has already “occured” to you. Ministry means pointing to that which might not be “occuring” to the sufferer, and that is the infathomable grace of God in Christ.