How Did Jesus Treat the Labeled People of His Day?

31 Days in My [Insert Label Here] Skin:

How Did Jesus Treat the Labeled People of His Day?



As human beings, we tend to treat people certain ways based on labels we’ve assigned to them.

For example, if a person has the label “wealthy” we might treat them with a bit more respect, a bit more preference, a bit more kindness.  On the other hand, if a person has the label “addicted”, “ugly”, “dirty”, “annoying”, “uneducated”, or “a mess” we might look down our noses a bit more, we might be less inclined to stop and listen to what they have to say, we might be a bit harsher or quick to respond with impatience at their blunders.

Back in Jesus’ day, there were all kinds of labels that were considered disgraceful.  The poor, the sick, the disabled, the blind, the insane, the demon-possessed, the widows, the orphans, the runaways, the castaways, and the refugees were some of the groups of people considered “underclass.”  Some of these labels even meant that an individual could be ostracized or treated as “less than”— and it would be completely socially acceptable.

Take the label “sick,” for example.  Depending upon the type of illness, people who had certain sicknesses or disabilities or skin diseases were marginalized in their society, not allowed to worship in the synagogue, and sometimes even completely shunned.  Many of them lacked resources to be able to provide even their basic needs and turned to begging or stealing in an attempt to stay alive.

People with leprosy, for example, were some of those routinely and systematically not included in the life and worship of an ancient Israelite community.  These folks would undoubtedly be avoided at all costs and, due to the lack of medical knowledge at the time, had little hope for recovery.

It is fascinating, then, to see how Jesus responded to this “labeled” population when He walked the earth.  In Matthew 8, Mark 1, and Luke 5 we see the following story described:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.  When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!”  And immediately the leprosy left him.  ~Luke 5:12-13~

Jesus not only didn’t avoid the sick man, as was the custom of everyone around Him, He engaged in conversation with that man— and even touched him (which was a huge no-no in their day)— and said He was willing to heal the man.

I love this.  Jesus engaged with people who were different than Him.  He even engaged with people who had labels that would have made it completely socially acceptable to treat them as “less than” in some way.  He wasn’t afraid to talk with them, He wasn’t afraid to listen to their stories or their requests, or even to hang out and have a meal with them (as we see in plenty of other stories recorded in the four gospels).  And, in this particular recorded interaction, we see that He was willing to do so!

And I love that Jesus didn’t stop there.  He also touched the man.  Think about it: due to the nature of his ailment (a highly contagious skin disease), this man would have not experienced human touch since his diagnosis.  We don’t know how long this man had been sick, but we do know that he “was covered with leprosy” and so likely had been sick for months if not years.  And the fact that Jesus didn’t shy away from even that is just remarkable.

Watching Jesus’ response to the negatively labeled people in His time is both inspiring and quite instructive for me.  I, too, want to be brave and engage in conversation with those who are different from me.  And I, too, want to be willing to love them in ways that will be meaningful to them.

I’m on a journey, you guys.  I haven’t “arrived” by any stretch of the imagination!!!  But I want to keep studying Jesus and learning His mannerisms so that I can start following in His footsteps a little bit more each day.  

Join me?


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What about you?

Can you think of a time in your life when you saw someone following in Jesus’ footsteps and welcoming someone who was hard to welcome?  Who do you avoid or shun or look at as “less than” you?  How can you be a bit more inviting, a bit more engaging, or show a bit more kindness and respect to people with that label?  

Please share your journey in the comment section below.


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