Friday, September 10, 2004

The view from the side of the road

As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging... (Luke 18:35)

In the Gospel of Luke, we read that Jesus encounters a blind person "sitting by the roadside begging." In fact, this is where Jesus seems invariably to encounter the poor, the lame, the blind, and the lepers: on the side of the road.

In order to understand what it means to be on the side of the road, we must first understand what a road is. The Roman government developed a fantastic road system throughout the empire, including Palestine. The great "Roman Roads," some of which exist to this day, were constructed for primarily military and secondarily commercial purposes. The primary purpose for the existence of the Roman roads was to be able to move large numbers of troops throughout the empire as necessary. This made it possible to defend Rome's borders, but also to quell riots among the various indigenous peoples which Rome had conquered. The secondary purpose of the roads was to encourage commerce, since a robust economy was necessary to support the military through taxation. This is why the tax booths were located on the major thoroughfares, where taxes were collected in the form of a toll.

To be "on the road," then, means to be participating at some level in the state-sponsored quest for military dominance and economic prosperity.

What then does it mean to be on the side of the road? Those on the roadside are the ones who have been left out of the project of power and wealth. They are the poor, the blind, the lame, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the marginalized. We constantly read that, as Christ is traveling, he stops to interact with those on the wayside. We might even say that He defines His ministry primarily in terms of those on the side of the road. In Matthew, He replies to the emissaries of John, "the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor receive good news." And in Luke, at the beginning of His ministry, He proclaims, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

The "year of the Lord's favor" that Christ proclaims is good news for those on the side of the road.

And if we are to call ourselves followers of Jesus, if we are to embrace His Gospel of the Kingdom, we must familiarize ourselves with the view from the side of the road.

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