Why would anybody want to mistreat Jesus? Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, who bids all the children come, even when the suits try to officiously obstruct with their bureaucratic barriers, red tape, and turn taking. “Just let the children come,” Jesus counters. “I’m all about kids. Come on, everybody, let’s be kids forever.”
Suits still resist. “It’s not that simple,” they argue. But whatever their objection, that is Jesus’ message (Mark 10:13-16). It so won the heart of one gifted, rich Jewish youth looking on that he came running after Jesus to ask what he could do to get into the kingdom too.1
Yet, as delightfully loving as Jesus is, gifted people have turned away from Jesus. Smart, successful, and very religious people have persecuted Jesus. Saul did, until Jesus asked him about it: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14, NASB).2 Saul had been doing what he thought he “had to,” torturing people on God’s behalf (verse 9). Kicking against sharp iron goads makes no sense: it hurts your kickers!
But Saul’s intelligence was no guarantee that what he was doing was sensible. His religiosity didn’t guarantee that what he was doing was godly. Being spiritual is no guarantee that what you are doing is holy. Moreover, kicking against the goads need have nothing to do with anti-religion. Persecuting Jesus need have nothing to do with godless atheism. It did not for Saul. Abusing Jesus may be nothing more than misunderstanding the sheer practicality of His gospel.
Consider this unadorned denunciation: “He who despises his neighbor sins. . . . He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him (Prov. 14:21-31, NASB ’77).3 The Hebrew word for “reproaches” (ch-r-p) is here the antithesis of “honors”; it includes the sense of disgracing and blasphemy. Not caring for society’s needy constitutes a profound moral abuse of our Maker. Why would anybody want to do that? Why would anybody want to mistreat Jesus?
Lyndelle Brower Chiomenti was painfully shocked when she realized how she had hurt Jesus by her refusal to help someone simply because of his uncomplimentary appearance. “Could you help me buy some food?” he had asked—because he thought she worked at the store. “I’m sorry,” she replied, misunderstanding that he had wanted money. In the end Lyndelle knew that her action had brought Jesus pain.4
Jesus makes it plain that how we treat or maltreat society’s vulnerable and marginalized is how we treat or mistreat Him. The rich youth couldn’t handle a lifestyle of service to the poor. He jammed his feet against the goads and went away hurting; but he still went away (Mark 10:22).
Choosing Jesus’ way saves us the hurt of kicking against the goads; it protects us from the pain of remorse at our own uncharitable conduct; it relieves the pain of others whom life has kicked around. And it relieves the pain in Jesus’ own heart that He endures at the mistreatment of His own children. He is full of congratulations for those who, with childlike trust in Him, give their all in service to their fellow humanity: “Thank you for not starving Me, the hungry man; spurning Me, the foreigner; leaving Me exposed to the elements; thank you for visiting Me instead of rejoicing that they’d locked Me up and thrown the key away” (see Matt. 25:31-45). All those tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free—that’s Jesus. Why would anybody want to mistreat Jesus?