Last weekend I wrote an article for the local paper. Benefit of small town life I guess. Another benefit is you tend to get feedback, positive and negative, from lots of places. The line that seemed to capture the most attention is this:
Jesus overwhelmingly cared for people’s physical and emotional well being before their spiritual one.
Now given opportunity to explain myself, more than the 500 word news paper column allows, I would talk about the interconnected nature of the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Sufficed to say, I do understand they are deeply interconnected, and in fact most of what I do relies on that fact. And, I would argue, Jesus and the disciples understood that too.
When I try to explain to people why the church should be involved in meeting people’s physical and emotional needs I often hear back something like, “Doesn’t that make us just another social service group.” I guess the first thing I’d ask is, is being a social service group really that bad a thing? One could argue from the descriptions of the early church we find in Acts and Paul’s pastoral letters the early church was the original social service group!
More importantly though it seems to come from a worldview where the spiritual aspects of a person’s life are somehow divorced from the physical ones. However, most people instinctively know that isn’t true.
Eating is a physical need. Yet, tasting your favorite soup, on a cold day, prepared by someone who loves you, taps into something far deeper than just the physical need to eat. Similarly, having someone listen intently to you, after a very bad day, taps into something deeper than just our emotional need to decompress.
If your church is simply throwing clothing, food, or money at people then yes, that likely doesn’t do much to tap those deeper spiritual places. However, all of those things can open doors to reach those dustier corners that God wants to bring light too.
We need to taste the sweetness of communion and feel the wetness of baptism to fully experience the hope and grace we are offered through Christ. If the physical wasn’t important we could just talk and think about it, but we can’t, we must do it, because it’s all connected.
Once we have encountered Jesus doing these things for us, we have no choice but to accept his invitation to “go, and do likewise.”